Should I get legal advice if a loved one’s hospital death seems unusual?
Sharon Parsons, Litigation Executive in Coodes Solicitor’s Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence team explains what you can do if you have questions about a loved one’s death in hospital.
The care patients receive in hospital is usually very good and most people don’t have any problems. But occasionally things can go wrong. If a family member dies in hospital, you are likely to have questions about what happened. If you feel the circumstances around their death were unusual, you may want to take action.
Referring a case to the coroner
When a patient dies in hospital unexpectedly, the death will be reported to the coroner. A coroner is an independent judge appointed by the local authority. They investigate certain deaths that happen in their local area.
A coroner is usually a legal professional, but sometimes they are doctors. The coroner investigates deaths where the person has not died from natural causes. They can organise a post-mortem, which is the examination of a body after death.
Sometimes, the coroner will hold an inquest, which is a formal investigation into the facts of how someone has died. Not all deaths that are investigated will need to have an inquest. You will be told if an inquest is needed.
If you think that there was something unusual about the death of your loved one in hospital and that there should be an inquest, you should ask the hospital if they are referring the case to the coroner. Alternatively, you can contact the coroner directly or through a specialist clinical negligence lawyer.
Bringing a claim following the death of a loved one
Even where an inquest isn’t taking place, you might want to investigate the circumstances of your loved one’s death.
Bringing a claim against a hospital, GP, or care provider can allow you to investigate the circumstances around a death and potentially claim compensation if it is found that the death was caused or contributed to by negligence.
Many people are also motivated to make a claim because they want to prevent the same negligent treatment or care being provided to someone else.
You might receive an apology and be told what lessons have been learnt to avoid the same thing happening to others.
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Should I make a claim or a formal complaint?
Instead of (or in addition to) making a claim you might want to make a formal complaint. This could be, for example, a complaint to the Care Quality Commission (CQC) if the death took place in a care home or supported living facility. You can also complain to a hospital trust if the death took place either in the hospital or when someone was under the care of a community health team.
Is every hospital death investigated?
It’s worth being aware that not every hospital death will be investigated. An investigation won’t happen if the doctor confirms that the death happened because of natural causes or a medical condition, and if there are no unusual circumstances.
If this happens:
- The doctor will sign a medical certificate.
- You will take the medical certificate to the registrar.
- The coroner will issue a certificate to the registrar to confirm that a post-mortem is not needed.
However, if you have unanswered questions about the death of a loved one in hospital and you feel their death could have been the result of medical negligence, it is important to get advice. Speak to a specialist clinical negligence lawyer who can advise you on whether or not you have a case.