A post-mortem examination is a detailed study of a body after death. It is also known as an autopsy. Post-mortem examinations are carried out by pathologists – medical professionals who specialise in the diagnosis of disease after death and identifying the causes of death.
Post-mortem examinations are carried out for two main reasons:
- If the cause of a death is unknown, or when a death happens unexpectedly or suddenly, it is referred to a coroner who orders a post-mortem examination. By law, coroners' post-mortem examinations can take place without the consent of the family.
- At the request of the family of a deceased person in order to provide information about illness and cause of death. In these cases consent should be obtained from the deceased's family.
All post-mortem examinations, whether or not authorised by a coroner, must take place on premises licensed by the HTA.
Post-mortem examinations of some tissue and organs may take several weeks. The family can decide either to delay the funeral so that the tissue or organs can be replaced in the body, or to hold the funeral, in which case the tissue and organs will be sensitively and respectfully disposed of.
Alternatively, a family may decide to consent to the tissue or organs being kept for research. More information about post-mortem examinations is available on the NHS Direct website.
Please use the links on the left of this page to access information for the post mortem sector, including our codes of practice on post-mortem examination and disposal of human tissue.
Communication flowchart for coroners' post-mortem examinations
Our communication flowchart supports good communication between pathologists and coroners. You can download the flowchart below. The flowchart is designed to be printed in colour on A3 paper.
If you don't have an A3 capacity printer, you can also download an A4 version of the flowchart.
We issued two sets of Directions to the post mortem sector on 30 April with immediate effect. Directions 001/2010 and 002/2010 are available from our legal directions page.
One set of Directions requires an audit of relevant material taken from the deceased which is stored at HTA-licensed establishments within the post mortem sector. The audit results must be submitted to the HTA no later than 30 September 2010. The second set of Directions requires an annual compliance report against core HTA standards to be submitted to the HTA. The first compliance self-assessment must be submitted to the HTA no later than 30 June 2010.
The primary aim of the audit is to assure the HTA that post mortem tissue kept for research and other purposes required under human tissue legislation is given with consent so that the public can be confident that the regulator is doing its job in ensuring that people’s wishes are respected.
The information will:
- enable the HTA to provide tailored advice and guidance to individual establishments on tissue retention;
- identify establishments that require support in reviewing their systems governing consent, traceability and disposal, in order to achieve full compliance with HTA standards;
- inform the advice and guidance provided to the PM sector as a whole on common areas of difficulty;
- provide information to the HTA on the issues facing post-mortem sector establishments to inform the continued development of HTA policy affecting the sector.