Updated guidance has been published for the wide range of health professionals who care for people just before and after death.
The guidelines – titled Care After Death – aim to help ensure a person who has died is cared for and there is well co-ordinated support that respects the wishes of the deceased and their families.
As well as nurses and doctors, the document covers mortuary staff, pathologists and funeral directors.
“We particularly welcome the guidance’s emphasis on training for staff”
The first edition, published in 2011, focused mainly on care for adults in acute hospitals, at home or in a care home. The updated version also covers post-death care in mental health services and prisons.
In addition, it incorporates detailed elements of care provision in the immediate aftermath of someone’s death. One particular aspect of care that has been identified as needing attention is the verification of expected death, particularly in a community setting – care home or patient’s home.
Families can experience distress when verification is not completed in a timely manner and the guidance recommends minimum timelines for this to take place.
The updated guidance also places emphasis on the need for training for staff involved in providing care after death, particularly support for bereaved families. It highlights the need for empathetic, clear communication by professionals, which is adapted to the needs of different families.
“The importance of the care of a person who has died cannot be overestimated”
Among others, it has been endorsed by the Royal College of Nursing, Hospice UK and the National Council for Palliative Care.
Lead guideline author Jo Wilson, a member of the National Nurse Consultant group for Palliative Care, said: “The importance of the care of a person who has died cannot be overestimated for those providing the care for the deceased, or their families.”
Dr Ros Taylor, national director for hospice care at Hospice UK, added: “This guidance will address some significant gaps, in terms of both practical measures and also emotional support – which is a crucial aspect of hospice and palliative care – to help improve the provision of care after death.
“We particularly welcome the guidance’s emphasis on training for staff,” she said. “There is only one opportunity to get things for right individuals and their loved ones after death, and it is very important they feel fully supported by all the professionals they encounter.”