What can I do if I think a loved one’s death is unusual?
The death of a loved one is a devastating blow that sadly most of us will face at some time in our lives. In most cases, the circumstances and cause are clear, but what should you do if you think that something isn’t right and needs to be investigated?
If death is sudden and unexpected, or the circumstances seem unusual to you, you should first contact the family doctor. The doctor may decide to report the death to the coroner if:
- The deceased hadn’t been seen by a doctor during their last illness
- The doctor treating the deceased had not seen him or her either after the death or in the 14 days before the death
- There are suspicious circumstances, or the death was violent or the result of an accident
- The cause of death is unknown or uncertain
- Death was caused by an industrial disease.
If you don’t know who the deceased’s doctor was, then you can contact the police who will try and find out which doctor the patient was registered with. If a family doctor can’t be found, then the police will refer the matter to the coroner for further investigation.
If death occurred in hospital, and you have concerns or find the circumstances unusual, then you should speak to the doctor concerned and ask for the death to be referred to the coroner. The doctor may report the death to the corner for the same reasons outlined above. If you believe that the death hasn’t been reported to the coroner but should be, you can do this yourself. You should do so as soon as possible and before the funeral in case a post-mortem investigation needs to be carried out. The coroner will then inform you of the action they intend to take.
The coroner’s role
The coroner will establish if an investigation is required. If they have reason to believe the death was violent or unnatural or the cause of death is unknown, or the patient hadn’t been seen by their doctor during their last illness, then they will carry out an investigation. They may also involve the police if they believe a crime has been carried out, or the death is the result of an accident.
The coroner will decide if a post-mortem should be carried out and what type of examination is most appropriate. If you remain concerned about the cause of death, you can arrange for a separate, additional post-mortem examination to be carried out at your own expense once the coroner has released the body.
If the cause of death cannot be established, or the death is found to be unnatural, or the coroner feels that further investigation is called for, the coroner can hold an inquest. An inquest is a public court hearing to establish the facts concerning the death.