Post Mortems

1Organising a Second Post Mortem Examination

What is a Post Mortem?

A post mortem examination is the examination of the human body after death has occurred. It is sometimes known as an autopsy. The purpose of the post mortem is to determine the cause of death.

Post mortems are carried out by specialist doctors. These doctors are called pathologists and they specialize in the nature and understanding of disease.

Like most professions, pathologists have appropriate standards to adhere to and these are set by The Royal College of Pathologists, which is a professional membership organisation with over 11,000 members who are doctors or scientists working in hospitals or universities all over the UK.

Why is a Post Mortem carried out?

Post mortem examinations are carried out if the death has been referred to the coroner or the hospital has requested it.

Coroner’s Post Mortem

  • The death has been reported to the Coroner, who then is of the opinion that a post mortem is necessary to determine the cause of death ie ‘if the death is referred to the coroner by the police, GP or hospital doctor’.
  • A death will be referred to a Coroner if it is sudden or unexpected, violent or unnatural, an accident, if it occurred during medical treatment/surgery in hospital or the doctor treating the deceased had not seen the patient within 14 days of their death and the cause of the death is unknown.
  • Interestingly, if the pathologist carrying out the post mortem at the coroner’s request, wants to take tissue samples during the post mortem examination (ie to establish cause of death) then consent from the next of kin is not required. Although the coroner must handle organs and tissue samples in accordance with the next of kin’s wishes and these samples can be kept by the coroner until after the inquest has taken place or even longer in some cases.
  • If the death is treated as suspicious then the police may also need to keep samples as well as evidence to an investigation.
  • If a coroners post mortem is to be carried out, the family will not be asked for permission for the post mortem examination to go ahead.

Hospital Post Mortem

  • The hospital requests that it is done to provide information about the cause of death, the illness or to further medical research.

Second Post Mortem Examination

A second post mortem is not usually required unless it is requested by legal representatives of a family in perhaps, where there are criminal circumstances surrounding the death. If this is the case, a second post mortem examination is an examination is carried out by a different pathologist that who carried out the original post mortem examination. The reason for the second post mortem examination is to agree to or challenge the findings of the original examination. More often than not, a second post mortem in these circumstances is carried out by a forensic pathologist.

The most important thing to do at the outset is to seek the Coroners permission for the second post mortem. The easiest way to do this is to write to the coroner. The Coroner will need to know:-

  • That you are instructed on behalf of the family.
  • Who will be carrying out the post mortem examination.
  • Where and when the post mortem examination will take place.
  • The arrangements for transportation of the deceased to and from the venue where the post mortem is going to take place.

before granting permission for the examination to proceed.

While waiting for permission to be granted by the Coroner, it is essential to find a pathologist who is willing to carry out the second post mortem. Ideally, a pathologist who is independent from the hospital where the first post mortem was carried out and has not ties with the hospital/treating doctors if negligent medical treatment is suspected.

You will also need to find out where and when the post mortem can take place and how much it is going to cost. The cost estimate must include the pathologist’s fee for carrying out the examination, the cost of using the mortuary facilities (which is usually a separate cost).

It is imperative to know if the deceased has any infectious diseases, if so, there will be an extra cost for carrying out the post mortem (as a separate room will have to be organised, away from the main mortuary area). The pathologist may also charge extra for preparing a post mortem report and you will need to know whether the costs are inclusive or exclusive of VAT.

It is also essential to speak with the funeral directors regarding their fee for transporting the deceased to and from the examination venue. It is a good idea to ask them if they are willing to stay and wait until the examination has concluded and if so, if there is an extra charge for them to do so.

A clear plan needs to be in place as regards, where the deceased will be transported to after the second post mortem.

The pathologist will require:-

  • the relevant medical records
  • the previous post mortem report
  • the interim death certificate
  • a letter of instruction setting out what (s)he is required to do and if histopathology samples, photographs, x-rays etc are to be taken (if so you will require your client’s permission and a form of authority will have to be signed and returned to the pathologist)

Once the examination has taken place, it is advisable to speak with the pathologist to see if there were any difficulties during the procedure.

Our specialist solicitors at Osbornes Law are aware that a second post mortem report is a hugely important decision for the families concerned, to make.  It can resolve outstanding issues for them and allow them to take control of the situation, albeit temporarily, even if it had not done so in the proposed litigation.

If you have concerns in relating to post mortem examination or lack of examination we can assist you. We are here to help whatever the issue may be. Call 020 7485 8811 and ask for Stephanie Prior.

Our Promise to You

  • We will review your situation by advising you on the relevant procedure.
  • We will not charge a fee for our time in reviewing your case.
  • We can assist you with any issues that you may have regarding the complaints procedure or that you encounter in obtaining copies of your medical records/medical reports.
  • We will advise you of the course of action in respect to your case and obtaining a second post mortem examination.