GPs can provide 'remote support' for death verification during pandemic

GPs are not required to verify a death in person and can provide 'remote clinical support' to do so during the pandemic, according to new government guidelines.

(Photo: manonallard/Getty Images)
(Photo: manonallard/Getty Images)

The new guidance says non-medical professionals, which could also include 'independent family members', can verify the death, providing they have remote clinical support and are guided through a series of checks.

However, the guidance says that 'non-medical professionals should not experience any pressure to verify deaths. If they are not comfortable or equipped to verify, they should defer to medical colleagues or refer on to NHS 111, the patient’s general practice or another provider of primary medical services.'

It covers expected deaths outside of hospitals, including confirmed and unconfirmed COVID-19, with the exception of cases that need to be referred to the coroner.

During core hours, remote support should be provided by the deceased's GP practice, while outside core hours NHS 111 should be called and a clinician will help the verifier through the process.

Avoid delays

The government said that the changes will help to 'avoid long delays in waiting for verification before the deceased person can be moved when medical practitioners are unavailable, which can be distressing for their families and those close to them.'

It added that the guidance will be reviewed at the end of this 'emergency period'.

The guidance sets out how GPs can provide remote clinical support for death verification. It says GPs should make sure they have enough time to carry out the process in a compassionate manner and to record the steps taken in their IT system.

GPs should establish the circumstances immediately prior to the death and any patient history. They, and the verifier, also need to be satisfied that there is no reason to refer the death to the police or the coroner before they continue with the verification process.

Earlier in the pandemic the government also announced changes in the death certification process, which mean that medical certification of cause of death do not need to be completed by the doctor who last saw the patient if this is not possible. It also allows for the last attendance with a patient to be via a video consultation rather than just in-person.

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