A GP member had been involved in the care of an elderly woman who had multiple medical problems including metastatic breast cancer. As she became increasingly frail, her niece moved in to take care of her in her own home. The patient's only other relative, a daughter, lived overseas and had not been back to visit her mother for several months. The patient passed away peacefully in her sleep one night, with her niece at her bedside, and the GP member completed a medical certificate of the cause of death appropriately the next morning.
The practice was contacted later that day by the patient's daughter who said she had heard about her mother's death and was returning to the UK to arrange the funeral. She insisted that the practice should give her the death certificate, as next of kin, and that it should not be given to the niece. However, the patient's niece had herself already contacted the surgery that morning and arranged to pick up the certificate later that afternoon. The GP member rang the MDU for advice.
The adviser explained that under the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 there is an order of preference for the registrant of a death. This is set out on the back of the medical certificate of the cause of death for ease of reference. For a death in a private house it is as follows:
- A relative of the deceased, present at the death.
- A relative of the deceased, in attendance during the last illness.
- A relative of the deceased, residing or being in the sub-district where the death occurred.
- A person present at the death.
- The occupier, if he knew of the happening of the death.
- Any inmate, if he knew of the happening of the death.
- The person causing the disposal of the body.
In this case, the niece, who was present at the patient's death, would be the preferred registrant. The MDU advised that it would be appropriate to give the certificate to the niece so that she could register the death. The adviser also recommended that an explanation should be provided to the daughter and that it would be wise for the member to make a note of the decision made and the reasoning behind it in the patient's notes, in case he was asked to justify it at a later date.
This page was correct at publication on 17/12/2010. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.