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How Coronavirus bill is reshaping hospitals relationship with death

The Coronavirus Bill has had far reaching consequences for how the deceased are managed in and outside of hospital.

The bill anticipated the number of lives the pandemic would claim and subsequent pressure on bereavement and mortuary services along with funeral directors.

It streamlined a process where the cause of death and associated underlying health conditions are confirmed by the doctor who treated the patient and then scrutinized and signed off by a medical examiner(s).

This process was reduced from several days to several hours with the bill allowing any doctor to complete the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD) who has ‘reasonable belief of cause of death.’

Dr Glynn Evans, one of the trust’s two medical examiners, said: “These checks and balances are there for a reason but have been relaxed during the pande

“There is justifiably a lot of focus is on patients coming through the front door but it is just as important to manage those going out who’ve sadly passed away

The trust’s medical examiners also put the form online as part of the trust’s electronic records system saving doctors time away from their patients.

Families traditionally collect the MCCD from the hospital and physically take it to the Registrar of Birth, Deaths and Marriages who then issue a death certificate and ‘green form’ releasing the deceased for burial or cremation. This process is now done online reflecting social distancing.

In addition, the requirement that two doctors sign every cremation form has been temporarily waived allowing medical examiners to sign forms without the need to for other doctors to leave the wards.

Glynn added: “We went from managing 2-3 patients a day to more than 25 on some occasions during the peak of the first wave.

“It wouldn’t have been possible to return that number of patients to their families and offer hospital beds to new patients without the work of the bereavement and mortuary teams.

“These teams have been outstanding including staff who were redeployed to help out. People don’t hear about their work but they have been fantastic and are a credit to the trust.”

The bereavement team specifically deal with grieving relatives gently guiding them through the administrative procedures associated with the deceased. A number of additional staff were redeployed to help and proved a great asset in supporting families.

The Coronavirus Bill has a ‘sunset’ clause which means the whole process of managing the deceased will revert to normal after two years.

However, some of the new processes have streamlined the paperwork to such an extent that Glynn and fellow medical examiner Dr Charles Cayley would like to see these remain albeit with the right measures in place.

This would allow doctors to spend more time with patients and less time with paperwork.