Guidance for nurses about the verification of expected deaths has been included as part of an updated guideline for professionals involved in care for people just before and after the end of life.
According to the charity that produced the guidance, delays in verifying deaths, which often occur in people’s homes, have caused unnecessary distress to grieving families and are largely due to staff not being clear about the legal requirements surrounding the procedure.
”We are aware how much registered nurses want to contribute to the care of the deceased by providing timely verification of expected death”
The supplementary guidance, produced by charity Hospice UK, outlines the legal requirements and also the competencies nurses should be trained in to carry out verification.
It emphasises that deaths should be verified within one hour within hospitals, and within four hours in community settings.
Families should be advised that the time the person took their last breath may not the same as the time recorded as verification of death, states the document, called Care After Death: Registered Nurse Verification of Expected Adult Death (RNVoEAD) guidance.
Nurses are only advised to use guidance so long as the patient’s ‘do not attempt cardio-pulmonary resuscitation’ document is signed, the death is not accompanied by any suspicious circumstances, and there is an agreement that a registered nurse can verify the death in the person’s clinical notes.
It should be used in situations where a death occurs in a private residence, hospice, residential home, nursing home, prison or hospital, and the charity notes the document can be used with patients who die under the Mental Health Act, including those to whom the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DOLS) legislation applies.
“We were made aware of some gaps in essential guidance for staff involved in care after death, especially nurses working in the community”
Organisations including the Royal College of Nursing, the National Nurse Consultant Group for Palliative Care, the National Care Forum and Royal College of General Practitioners were involved in developing the document.
Jo Wilson, a member of the National Nurse Consultant group for Palliative Care who helped develop the supplementary guidance, said: “Nurses make an enormous difference to the care of the dying person.
“Having surveyed care homes we are aware how much registered nurses want to contribute to the care of the deceased by providing timely verification of expected death and support for bereaved families.”
Marie Cooper, a registered nurse and practice development lead at Hospice UK, added: “We were made aware of some gaps in essential guidance for staff involved in care after death, especially nurses working in the community, and have worked with partner organisations to address these.
“We are confident this additional guidance will ensure that all staff care are clear about their responsibilities, make the process of verifying deaths as smooth as possible and help avoid any delays that would cause distress to grieving families.”