The passing of a loved one is always difficult to those left behind. Many people will have had some medical treatment at a time shortly before their death or they will spend their final days in hospital. The strain on families throughout this time is immense.
The vast majority of deaths are entirely natural and happen because of the condition or injury that brought them to the hospital in the first place. But sometimes something has gone wrong with the medical treatment that should have been avoided, and this can make a difficult time even more upsetting. These situations can mean that families are entitled to compensation, particularly if they were dependant on the person who died unnecessarily.
What is a post-mortem?
A post-mortem is the medical examination of a person’s body after they have died in order to establish the cause of death. Post-mortems are not always required, but are often carried out when the cause of death is sudden and unknown.
Post-mortems are carried out by doctors that specialise in identifying the nature and cause of disease, called pathologists. A post-mortem may be carried out:
- To further understand a disease so that more effective treatments can be developed
- To determine whether an inquest is required
- Where there are concerns about the medical treatment provided
Who can request a post-mortem?
A post-mortem can be requested by the Coroner where the cause of death is unknown, or following a sudden, violent or unexpected death. A coroner is a legal officer responsible for investigating deaths in certain situations. If the Coroner orders a post-mortem then you do not have a right to appeal against this decision.
A hospital doctor may request a post-mortem to find out more information about the cause of death or to research and understand the disease better. If it is the hospital that requests a post-mortem, then it can only go ahead if the patient’s family agree to this in writing.
It may also be possible for a family member to request a hospital post-mortem to provide information about how a loved one has died. This request will need to be documented in writing.
What is the post-mortem process
A post-mortem will be carried out as soon as possible and usually takes place within 1-2 days from the date of death. The Royal College of Pathologists have produced professional guidelines to ensure high standards of professional performance. The guidelines outline the expected standards for the entire post-mortem process and the content of the subsequent report. The Human Tissue Authority also provides a Code of Practice that must be adhered to.
After a post-mortem the pathologists will prepare a report on their findings. This is often a brief description of what has been found during the post-mortem procedure and can be quite technical. A copy of this report can be requested but you may be charged a fee for this, and our lawyers are able to assist you with this process.
Where there is suspected medical negligence, post-mortems and the pathologist’s report can be a source of useful information. The report is broken down into sections and assesses the various organs and systems. These investigations help to provide an indication of the overall health of the body and assists in determining the medical cause of death. However, the report alone will not determine whether there has been negligent treatment, as other evidence will need to be obtained.
We have a team of professional and compassionate lawyers who have helped many bereaved families obtain compensation following the death of a loved one. If you would like advice on making a claim, please contact our specialist medical negligence team on 0203 6033 818 or complete our online medical negligence enquiry form.