Video call

Widow forced to verify husband’s death via video call because GP won’t turn up

An elderly widow has been forced to certify her husband’s death via video call after a GP said they ‘don’t go out anymore’.

The patient, who was 80 and dying of cancer, died at home shortly after 4pm on a weekday earlier this month. His wife, who was caring for him at home, called his local GP and was told the doctor “would be in touch shortly”.

But when the GP called again, more than an hour and a half later, he said he would not come to the house.

Moira Evans, a friend of the widow who was there at the time and who spoke to the Telegraph, said: “He then sent a link to a video chat… [and said] ‘Hold the camera towards the corpse’. My friend at this point said “I can’t, can you do it please Moira?”, and so I did.

The general practitioner explained that “they no longer go out to certify death, that you have to do it yourself on a smartphone”, she said.

“Verification must be done in person”

The temporary measures to complete medical cause of death certificates during the Covid pandemic were lifted in March this year.

The current official requirements, set by the HM Passport Office, state: “Seeing the deceased after death (i.e. seeing the body) will need to be in person and includes verification of death.”

An NHS spokesperson said: ‘Death verification should be carried out in person by a qualified healthcare professional with sensitivity and compassion.

Some patients have struggled to access their GP since the start of the pandemic, with some practices still preventing patients from having face-to-face appointments.

The latest official figures show around 65% of GP appointments were in person in July, the highest proportion since March 2020, when it was 66%. However, the figure is still well below the pre-pandemic average of around 80%.

“Completely outrageous”

Dennis Reed, of campaign group Silver Voices, said it was “absolutely stunning” that a vulnerable person had been asked to film her late husband.

“I wonder how specific this stuff is,” he said. “You’re basically asking the individual to certify the death of their own partner and, in a traumatic situation, that’s completely outrageous.

“What if there were faint signs of life that could be determined by someone actually visiting?”

He said the ordeal showed ‘how impersonal the NHS is becoming’, adding: ‘There seems to be virtually no limit to what needs to be done virtually rather than with a personal touch’.

Ms Evans said she was asked to hold the phone up to the man’s face and the doctor then asked: ‘Can you hold it a bit lower so I can see his chest?’

Less than a minute later into the video call, the doctor said, “OK, I’ve seen enough,” she added.

He then explained that they would issue the death certificate and someone from the medical center would be in touch to find out when they could pick him up.

They were then able to tell the funeral directors that the GP had seen the man on video and that they could come and collect the body.

“The procedure of having to do this on video…we were just stunned,” Ms Evans said. “You just assume that when someone dies in your house, someone is going to come out and…have a tiny bit of compassion in there.”