Examining the word ‘examination’ in death 

3 August 2022

By Dr Peter Moodie, College Clinical Advisor

The lawyers for the Medical Protection Society (MPS) have recently sought clarification of the term ‘examination’ as it applies to filing death certificates and cremation papers. 

This question has arisen following a member asking if using a video link could be considered an adequate examination, particularly if there was a risk of COVID-19 infection. 

The Ministry of Health have made the following comments: 

  1. If you are the deceased patient’s doctor and you are happy to write a death certificate, there is no requirement to see or examine the patient after death.  However, if the person is to be cremated then the doctor/nurse practitioner must physically see and identify the body and certify as to whether there is a pacemaker implanted under Section 7 of the Cremation Regulations.  
  2. However, there is an exemption from Section 7 if the patient has died from COVID-19 AND they live in a rest home, residential care facility, or other long-term in-patient facility.  There are several requirements if you want to use this exemption and you should read the regulations. In this case the undertaker will identify whether there is an implanted pacemaker. Importantly, this DOES NOT apply if the patient died in a hospital, a hospice or at home.
  3. There is a third situation where the body must be physically seen and examined.  This is where you are certifying death where you were not involved in the person’s care, but you are acting on behalf of the normal attending clinician.  Again you should read the relevant regulations if you find yourself in this situation.