What Happens If A Post Mortem Examination Is

What happens?

When a death is reported to the office, the report is given to the Coroner to decide on the next step.

As explained in the previous section, the Coroner may be satisfied that the death is due to natural causes and take no further action.

If the Coroner decides it is necessary to investigate further, he may order a post mortem examination.  This will happen if:

  • The cause of death is clearly unnatural, e.g. following a fall or assault
  • The cause of death is potentially unnatural, e.g. if it may be linked to surgery or exposure to asbestos
  • The cause of death is not known.  Even if the cause is likely to be natural, it is necessary to find out which      disease or condition was involved.
  • The deceased died in custody or otherwise in the care of the State

Where will the post mortem take place?  Who will perform it?

There are several hospitals within the South Wales Central Area where post mortem examinations are carried out on behalf of the Coroner. They are:

  • Royal Shrewsbury Hospital
  • Prince Charles Hospital
  • Royal Glamorgan Hospital
  • Princess of Wales Hospital
  • University Hospital of Wales

The choice of where an examination will take place is down to the Coroner but you will be informed of the date and location of where the examination is to take place.  Please speak to one of the Coroner’s Officers for further details.

All post mortems in this area are carried out by a Consultant Pathologist, or by a middle-grade doctor under the supervision of a Consultant and will be assisted by technicians. 

We should inform you that relatives are entitled in law to send a representative to observe the post mortem.  The representative must be a qualified medical doctor.  In practice, this right is hardly ever used.

Specialist post mortem examinations

If there are suspicious circumstances, the Coroner may consider a forensic post mortem.  This is a more detailed examination performed by a specially trained Pathologist.  They generally take place at the University Hospital of Wales. 

Occasionally, the Coroner may ask a Pathologist who specialises in a particular organ, such as the brain or heart, to carry out the post mortem.  We may transfer the body to another local hospital for this.  If the Coroner has ordered a specialist post mortem on your relative, we will let you know and explain why.

What happens when the results come back?

When the post mortem is completed, the Pathologist will report the causes of death that they found to the Coroner.  The Coroner will review the information and do one of two things:

  1. If the post mortem shows that the deceased died of natural causes, the Coroner will issue paperwork to allow the  death to be registered and take no further action.
  2. If the post mortem shows an unnatural cause of death, or if the cause or death could not be found at this stage, the Coroner will open an investigation or an inquest.  This is an inquiry which may be followed by a fact-finding court hearing about the circumstances of the death. 

How long will it take?

It takes approximately five working days from the time that the post mortem is ordered until we receive the results.  Results from specialist post mortems may take longer.

How will we communicate with you?

The next of kin will receive two phone calls from our office - one to advise that a post mortem has been ordered, and another a few days later to explain the results and what will happen next.  We do not trouble relatives between those times unless it is necessary, but they are welcome to call the office with any questions.

If we are unable to trace or contact relatives after making substantial efforts, we may need to order the post mortem without notifying them. 

Can I still view my relative's body/have an open casket?

The pathologists are very careful to make sure that the post mortem will not affect your relative's appearance.  When the body is dressed and lying in the chapel of rest, there are no signs that the post mortem took place.  Relatives who wash and dress the body themselves will notice some surgical stitches.  Your funeral director will be able to give you advice on your personal situation.