When someone dies in hospital

​​​​​​​When someone close to you dies, it is often hard to know what to do or where to turn for advice and assistance.

For many people, the death of someone close to them, even if it was expected, causes a mix of emotions from shock, numbness and disbelief, to sadness and relief.

Staff are aware that it is often very difficult for family/whānau to make plans or to take in all they hear from different people.

When the cause of death is known

If the attending doctor knows the deceased/tūpāpaku's medical condition and history, they may be able to complete a death certificate based upon their knowledge of the deceased/tūpāpaku.

Once a death certificate has been issued and the hospital has ensured all legal documentation and procedures are completed appropriately, the deceased/tūpāpaku can be released immediately to a funeral director or next-of-kin.

If you have selected a funeral director, they can contact the mortuary co-ordinator or duty manager to make arrangements for taking the deceased/ tūpāpaku to the destin​​ation you choose.

If you wish. the deceased/tūpāpaku can be taken to the hospital mortuary to allow more time to make decisions. A room can usually be made available for you to view the deceased/tūpāpaku. An appointment can be made by phoning the Mortuary Office on 03 364 1019 or the duty manager after hours by pager 8304.

Police and coroner involvement

In certain circumstances, a death must be reported to the coroner who will refer it to the Police. These include:

  • No certain cause of death

  • When a person appears to have died by suicide

  • Unnatural or violent death.

  • Deaths related to medical, surgical or dental operations or anaesthetic procedures.

  • A range of deaths occurring in institutional or custodial care.

​In such situations, staff will contact the coroner who will require the Police to meet with family/whānau. They will have a few formalities to complete.

Where deaths need to be investigated by the coroner, the deceased/tūpāpaku will stay in the hospital mortuary until released by the coroner. When a coroner investigates a death, there are legal and medical procedures involved which come under their control, including:

  • Formal identification of the person who has died

  • A post-mortem  examination (autopsy) may be performed

  • An inquest (a formal judicial hearing) may be held some months in the future

You can still proceed with contacting a funeral director. The funeral director will make enquiries with the Mortality Office on behalf of the family/whānau about when the body of the deceased/tūpāpaku can be released.

Lists of local funeral directors can be found in the phone book or a national list of directors belonging to the Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand is available at www.funeralsnewzealand.co.nz

Cultural considerations

Hospital staff, Police and other people involved in the procedures surrounding a person's death, recognise the importance of meeting the cultural needs of the deceased/tūpāpaku and their family/whānau. Please let staff know how they can assist you.

Personal belongings

Usually belongings are given to the family/whānau to take home. If anything is left behind, it can be collected later from the hospital. For coroner's cases, any items that go to the mortuary become the responsibility of the Police. You may need to contact the Police Inquest Office to arrange collection.

Funeral arrangements

Making these important arrangements as well as dealing with the raw emotions associated with losing someone you care deeply about is demanding and stressful. Some family/whānau find it helps to nominate one person to make an initial call to two or three funeral directors about prices and the type of services available.

The major costs relate to:

  • Service charges – the work of the funeral director, provision of facilities and equipment, registration of death and the casket

  • Cremation or burial costs

  • Provision of a memorial or headstone

The person arranging the funeral needs to think about what can be afforded by the deceased/tūpāpaku's estate or who can financially assist if there is insufficient money. They don't have to 'leave it all to the funeral director' or accept 'only the very best or expensive' unless that is what i​s wanted.

Funerals are very personal and can be the opportunity to express the qualities and uniqueness of the person who has died and to celebrate their life. Funeral directors are very willing to meet with family/whānau to discuss special requests.

Funeral choice

Family/whānau may choose to carry out some or all of the funeral tasks themselves. It is advisable to discuss plans for an alternative funeral within the family/whānau before final decisions are made. It would also be advisable to keep the Mortuary Office informed of any alternative arrangements being considered for transporting of the deceased/tūpāpaku.

Financial assistance

If the cause of death was accidental, there may be financial assistance available from ACC to help with funeral costs. Work and Income may help if the deceased/tūpāpaku was on a benefit or low income. Either agency can be contacted by freephone or by the funeral director.

If a patient has been transferred to Christchurch Hospital from a public hospital in another centre and dies while an inpatient, there may be financial assistance available from the Ministry of Health to transport the deceased/tūpāpaku home. Please ask the ward social worker to discuss whether or not you family/ whānau may be eligible. ​

When someone dies in hospital
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Page last reviewed: 11 September 2015