New system for death certification

Fees for cremation forms signed by doctors will no longer apply in Scotland from today, as a new system of death certification comes into effect.

The crematoria medical referee system is to be abolished, meaning that next of kin will no longer have to pay around £170 for paperwork relating to their loved one’s cremation. The move will save bereaved families around £5.5 million every year.

Under the Certification of Death Act, passed by the Scottish Parliament, the quality and accuracy of death certificates will be improved. This will create a better understanding of the actual causes of death, allowing NHS resources to be targeted more effectively. It will also provide better healthcare information to families to enable them to manage their own health where some conditions may run in families.

For the first time, relatives will have the right to request a review of the information on the certificate if they have any concerns. Reviews will be carried out by an independent team at Healthcare Improvement Scotland.

Assistance with post-mortem examinations will also be provided to bereaved families dealing with a death that has happened abroad. Families will be able to apply for assistance, including financial assistance, to arrange for a post-mortem.

Some death certificates will be selected at random and reviewed to ensure that the information has been completed correctly.

Maureen Watt, Minister for Public Health, said:

“Dealing with the death of a loved one is a difficult and traumatic experience. It can also be an expensive process, so I’m pleased that we have been able to improve the system and abolish cremation fees.

“It’s important that the death certification process is rigorous. The recorded information should be both correct and sufficiently detailed that can improve future health care for families and communities. By improving the certification process we can ensure this continues to be the case.

“In the rare cases where a family has concerns or complaints about what has been included on the death certificate, it’s entirely right that they should be able to request a review. For that reason we have introduced a right to an independent review of the death certificate.”
Notes to editors

There are roughly 55,000 deaths in Scotland each year, although the number fluctuates.

Similar changes to death certification rules are proposed in England and Wales, but Scotland is the first UK nation to bring in legislation.

Legislation was prompted in part by recommendations arising from the crimes of Dr Harold Shipman, to stop any malpractice and ensure there is proper scrutiny of the death certification process, whatever method of funeral is chosen.