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New guidance on care after death launched by Northern Ireland's chief nurse

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New guidance for registered nurses and healthcare assistants about how to provide care after death has been produced by the chief nursing officer for Northern Ireland.

The document – titled Care of the deceased patient and their family: A Guideline for Nursing Practice in Northern Ireland – outlines the principles of how to care for people who have died, and also their families.

“When a patient dies, nurses and midwives lead in the coordination of care after death”

Charlotte McArdle

It also explains the steps that should be taken ahead of someone dying – including ensuring staff understand decisions about resuscitation, organ donation, and the environment that the person would prefer to die in.

The guidance recommends relaxing visiting hours for families around this time and states that “whenever possible a dying patient should be nursed in the quiet of a single room where the family have freedom to visit and stay at any time”.

In addition, it outlines the steps that should be taken at the time of death, including how to inform family members.

The document goes on to highlight the governance and legal issues surrounding death, such as verification of the death – which can be carried out by a medical practitioner or a nurse trained in this area – and the role in liaising that nurses will often have during this time.

“Undertaking this role sensitively and respectfully has the potential to help people with this difficult journey”

Charlotte McArdle

Step-by-step information is provided about how to provide care for the deceased person, including the personal care that is required within two to four hours of them dying, infection control precautions and how to address the bereavement needs of families.

Arrangements for transferring the deceased patient to a mortuary or funeral home are also outlined, as well as how to record the care provided after death.

CNO for Northern Ireland, Professor Charlotte McArdle, said: “I am delighted to launch a regional document to promote excellence in the nursing care of the deceased patient and their families.

CNO for Northern Ireland

Charlotte McArdle

Charlotte McArdle

“When a patient dies, nurses and midwives lead in the coordination of care after death and are uniquely placed to ensure that these final acts of care for the deceased person and their loved ones uphold standards of good nursing practice,” she said.

“Undertaking this role sensitively and respectfully has the potential to help people with this difficult journey through the bereavement process,” she said.

“This includes their liaison with colleagues from other professions and services to co-ordinate any health and safety, legal, administrative, spiritual and cultural requirements arising before, at the time of and immediately after death,” added Professor McArdle.

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