A medical certificate for cause of death is a document issued by a doctor or other medical practitioner detailing the causes of death. It should not be confused with a death certificate, which is an official record of the death retained by local authorities, a copy of which is issued to the family after registering the death. The cause of death medical certificate is issued before the death has been registered – in fact, it’s necessary to submit the certificate as part of the registration process.
Who issues a medical certificate for cause of death?
The medical certificate is issued by a qualified doctor, although exactly which doctor signs the document will vary depending on the situation. For example, an expected death which occurred in the family home will generally result in the deceased’s GP issuing the certificate. In rare cases, for example if the GP had not seen the deceased recently or was not aware of their final illness, it may be necessary for someone else to handle the certificate.
If the death occurred in an accident where paramedics were called to the scene, an on-call doctor may be summoned to provide their signature to the certificate. If it took place in a hospital under the supervision of a presiding doctor, he or she will be required to handle the certificate. All of this assumes that the cause of death was not violent, sudden or unexpected. In those cases, there may be more of a delay in obtaining the medical certificate for cause of death.
Who issues a certification in unusual cases?
In certain scenarios, it is not possible for a death medical certificate to be issued immediately. This most commonly occurs when the circumstances surrounding the death are unclear; for example, if it was an unexpected or violent death, or if it resulted from a workplace accident. In these cases, the doctor may not be able to definitively determine the cause of death and thus summon a coroner to conduct an autopsy or post-mortem.
In very rare cases, the further investigations by the coroner may still not provide a definitive conclusion on the cause of death, in which case the coroner may call an inquest. If this happens, it is necessary to wait until the inquest has reached its conclusion before the coroner can issue the medical certificate. In either case, the coroner themselves will sign the certificate once they have determined the cause of death.
What happens next?
Once you have the medical certificate in your possession, you can begin the process of registering a death. This must be completed within five days of the deceased passing. Further information on the steps involved can be found at the above link.