Patients & Families

What happens after a death in ICU?

After death the family are welcome to stay for a while. In due course the patient will be moved to the mortuary, and some paperwork will need to be completed. Staff will be able to provide leaflets advising the family on what to do after the death, including contacting an undertaker and registering the death.


Certifying death & talking with the Procurator Fiscal

Usually the ICU doctors are able to issue a death certificate for the patient directly after death. Sometimes, however, the circumstances of the death require that the doctors must report the death to the Procurator Fiscal in Scotland, e.g. after an accident. If, after reviewing the case, the Procurator Fiscal is happy for a death certificate to be issued this is usually performed by the ICU doctors, and if not they will investigate the case further. This process can delay the issuing of the death certificate and it is important that the family are aware of this, and know of the Fiscal’s involvement.

Dealing with bereavment

It is always hard to come to terms with the death of a loved one, particularly so if it has been sudden or traumatic. Many relatives find themselves revisiting events in their heads, wondering if they could have done more to help their loved one, or struggling to understand the illness and the treatment they received. Families are always welcome to arrange to meet staff from the unit to go over events, some units offer a formal follow-up service, others will organise this on an ad-hoc basis. Alternatively relatives might find it useful to discuss their worries with their own GP or one of a number of bereavement counselling services available, if they prefer not to revisit the ICU. Click here for some useful contacts.

Donation of organs & tissues

Intensive care units in Scotland are highly supportive of organ and tissue donation, and if it is possible that the patient might be able to be a donor after death then staff will discuss this with the family at an appropriate time. Many patients have expressed a wish to donate during their life by joining the Organ Donor Register, but it is vital that the family agree to this taking place. Sometimes families bring up the topic of donation, looking for some good to come from a terrible event, and staff will take this forward where possible and appropriate, although unfortunately not everyone is suitable to donate. Each unit has access to a specialist nurse for organ donation who will help the family through this time. Organ donation usually takes place in an operating theatre near the ICU when all the preparations are in place. Tissue donation including skin, tendon and eye cornea donation can take place later after the patient’s body is in the mortuary. For more information on donation visit