Serious incidents after death

content analysis of incidents reported to a national database

Iain E. Yardley*, Andrew Carson-Stevens, Liam J. Donaldson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives: To describe serious incidents occurring in the management of patient remains after their death. Design: Incidents occurring after patient deaths were analysed using content analysis to determine what happened, why it happened and the outcome. Setting: The Strategic Executive Information System database of serious incidents requiring investigation occurring in the National Health Service in England. Participants: All cases describing an incident that occurred following death, regardless of the age of the patient. Main outcome measures: The nature of the incident, the underlying cause or causes of the incident and the outcome of the incident. Results: One hundred and thirty-two incidents were analysed; these related to the storage, management or disposal of deceased patient remains. Fifty-four incidents concerned problems with the storage of bodies or body parts. Forty-three incidents concerned problems with the management of bodies, including 25 errors in postmortem examination, or postmortems on the wrong body. Thirty-one incidents related to the disposal of bodies, 25 bodies were released from the mortuary to undertakers in error; of these, nine were buried or cremated by the wrong family. The reported underlying causes were similar to those known to be associated with safety incidents occurring before death and included weaknesses in or failures to follow protocol and procedure, poor communication and informal working practices. Conclusions: Serious incidents in the management of deceased patient remains have significant implications for families, hospitals and the health service more broadly. Safe mortuary care may be improved by applying lessons learned from existing patient safety work.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-64
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the Royal Society of Medicine
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018


  • death
  • deceased
  • errors
  • incident
  • mortuary
  • Patient safety
  • postmortem

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