Dr L had just started a two week locum for Dr B in a semi-rural two-doctor practice in England. Dr B had been visiting Mr S fortnightly, a frail patient with end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and ischaemic heart disease. Mr S’s wife telephoned the practice first thing and asked for a doctor to visit, as she had just discovered her husband dead in bed.
Dr L was the only doctor available that morning. She visited Mrs S and offered support. She examined Mr S and confirmed his death.
Later that day Mr S’s daughter contacted the surgery and asked Dr L to complete a death certificate for her father. Dr L hadn’t treated the patient before, and spoke with Dr A, the other GP partner. He hadn’t seen the patient for 2 years and felt he couldn’t complete the death certificate.
This scenario is not uncommon and can present sessional GPs with some concern. It is important to draw a distinction between confirming that a patient is dead (which any GP may do) and completing the death certificate.
The Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD) should be completed in a timely manner, to enable the family to register the death and make arrangements for a burial or cremation. However, there is guidance on the circumstances when a doctor may issue a death certificate.