Signing away dignity: GP obligations and the business of death

Signing away dignity: GP obligations and the business of death

The first time it happened I couldn’t believe it. I was watching a GP hand a grieving family their loved one’s death certificate…in a carpark. Instead of visiting them at their home — instead of showing respect for his deceased patient — he was meeting them in the carpark of his practice. He signed the death and cremation certificates, and, with barely a word, was gone. I was instantly saddened by what looked to be nothing more than a transaction.

Unfortunately, as a funeral director I know that this exact scene happens far more frequently than it should. It's not only impacted patients and their families, but the general quality of GP support in nursing homes. When you consider that around 170,000 elderly Australians are currently living in aged care (a figure that’s not expected to drop any time soon), it’s more critical than ever that we address issues surrounding duty of care...and start providing the support that patients deserve.

Processing the news of a loved one’s death is already a whirlwind of emotion and stress, and fraught with many sudden arrangements and responsibilities. The last thing a family needs to worry about is being left high and dry, while waiting for a GP to attend the deceased.

Like most people, I strongly believe in dying with dignity — which is why I want to explain the rights you have as an individual or loved one when it comes to GP obligations to the deceased in nursing homes.

 

Your first call should be to a GP

When a person dies at a nursing home and the death is expected, the first person that should be notified is their GP. The patient’s GP must attend as quickly as possible so that the death certificate (and cremation certificate, if required) can be issued. Only once this has taken place can the deceased be transported to the funeral home. However, given the busy schedules of Australian GPs, it's not always possible for them to attend on the spot. In these cases, nursing home staff may call an after-hours doctor (who may also be limited in availability), or issue a life extinct certificate themselves.

But this is where things get tricky. First and foremost, not all nurses are authorised to issue the life extinct certificate themselves, and, even in the case they are, registered nurses are unable to provide a cremation certificate. Secondly, Medicare provides payment for the death certificate and not the cremation certificate.

Most nursing homes aren’t equipped with mortuary facilities that can hold deceased residents. In desperation, nursing home staff are sometimes forced to call the police to have a body moved. That can be advantageous in the sense that a coroner may issue the death certificate — but it's certainly not the most sensitive way to deal with the peacefully deceased, or the grieving families who are confronted by this scene. 

One can only imagine how distressing that experience would be to the families, residents and staff present at the time. Surely resources could be managed more effectively!

 

The business of medical care

A 2012 AMA report found that over two-thirds of the GPs surveyed had decreased their visits to nursing homes — with the majority attributing this to the non-billable hours and inadequate Government rebates associated with callout visits. But the problem is much broader: last year it was reported that roughly 80% of GPs refuse to offer after-hours visits to the general public at all because of the additional costs incurred by doctors.

That's why most house calls are now handled by private medical deputising services (companies that employ registered medical practitioners to provide after-hours services).

 

We need to talk about dying

One of the reasons why I became a funeral director was to provide people with genuine, human, support at a time when I knew they needed it most. I don’t feel it’s unreasonable for Australians to expect their GPs provide the same — especially when it comes to aged care, palliative care and dying, from someone who may have serviced the family through all their other medical needs throughout life.

If you are unsure or concerned about the ability for you, a loved one or a patient you care for to access GP services in an aged care facility, don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s not always the easiest conversation, but it is a critical one. At Lady Anne, we created a Funeral Planning Checklist, which anyone can download, in the hope that it would help people face these difficult discussions head on, and to know the processes and rights of the family of the deceased.

Remember: living and dying with dignity are rights that everyone should have.

We're here to help

Lady Anne Funerals is here to support and assist your family through what can be a difficult time, with a ladies touch. 

We are available to discuss a range of services to support your family, including: 

  • Personalised memorial services
  • Cremation and burial services
  • Religious services catering to all faith's
  • No service, no attendance 

Please get in touch - night or day - via the form or you can call us on the number below.

Phone: 1300 74 00 74

904 Victoria Road, West Ryde 2114

Let's Talk

Some of the families we've helped

“I just wanted to send you our sincerest thanks for everything you and your incredible team did for us in making the most perfect day, celebration and farewell of our beautiful Harper.

I have given a lot of thought to your business and the industry and I think it is perhaps the most important business for families to get it right when it comes to planning a funeral which may be sudden or may be a long time in the making. Either way, when one is faced with the unfortunate situation of needing to arrange a funeral, only then do you realise the importance of getting it right.

We experienced first hand the polar opposites the industry offers. It is not just about the cars, the booklets, the music and all the things that make up the day - its about the service, the care and most importantly it’s about the people.

From our very first conversation we could sense your genuine care to our situation and your attention to detail was obvious - this was very different to the previous conversations we had with others we had been referred to. Those other companies wanted to commence meetings with the paperwork side of things upfront which is a very confronting thing to do just days after losing your loved one - and when one of the others that I am referencing couldn’t even refernece our daughters name as our meeting started - we were horrified of how poor the service of care could be.

This is where you and your team shine. After feeling very lost in our search to secure the perfect funeral director to create the perfect day, my wife all of a sudden recalled you standing out the front of your office each morning watering the surrounding gardens to ensure a beautiful front of house. Well, I can assure you, it is not just the front of house that is beautiful - its the entire package that is beautiful.

Your manner, your direction and your expertise is evident from the get go. Nothing is too hard for you or your amazing team. The personal care made us feel like we were the only funeral you were working with at the time, and that’s exactly how it should be.

The finer detail, such as driving past our house so our daughter could go past our house one last time, then leaving the most beautiful flowers on our doorstep, to bumping into us at the Church because you were just doing your own research to make sure the day was seamless. This combined with your recommendations from every aspect as everything was very foreign to us, you were able to guide us to achieve the most beautiful farewell.

The day itself was simply perfect. Not once did we have a concern. The car was shining, your team dressed beautifully, cold water provided for us, directions for our guests, directions for us. Everyone commented on how amazing the day was and how incredibly your team were. Seamless is the only word I can use. It doesn’t stop here.

Your personal care and guidance then allowed us a more intimate farewell the following day (we are so grateful for for this recommendation and possibly would have missed this special day if you had suggested it was the best idea). Again, you and your team made us feel like you had nowhere else to be, and no one else to help. Just us. The setting was beautiful, the celebrant (that you arrange and recommend) is a delightful, your team make this day even more special than the last.

This is something we never want to go through again but there will be so many others, that like us, have no idea where to start to look for the right funeral director for their own special day. All I can say is that I hope that they appoint Lady Anne Funerals. We learnt a lot quickly and it is again a business many do not ever consider needing but without question one of the most important businesses to select the right person and the right team.

I welcome any of your future potential clients to contact me if they wish to discuss our experience with the amazing Lady Anne team. We thank you for giving our beautiful baby the most incredible farewell that was exactly how we imagined it, you just made it happen.”

photo02_harper
Lee Dowdall
Karen has supported my Mum and me through the most difficult week of our lives as we not only planned a funeral, but interred my Dad to his new home. I will be forever grateful to Karen for her ongoing support, guidance, kindness, empathy and friendship over the last week. Karen has now become part of our extended circle of close family friends.
Daughter of the late Sveta Dordevich
Lady Anne Funerals has the compassion, understanding and empathy that many of the larger funeral homes do not possess. My aunts funeral was dignified and classy everything she deserved. I would highly recommend Lady Anne (and have) as they go above and beyond.
Joanne Marks
I am overwhelmed with the feedback on how beautiful it all was from all who attended. You and the other ladies were wonderful, looked so elegant, and made the day so very special for all who loved Paul.
Barbara Sommerville Enright
Karen and her staff treated us with the utmost respect we could not have been in better hands during this difficult time. My mum had organised her funeral with a prepaid funeral plan which she had purchased from Karen almost ten years ago this also made this upsetting time much easier to deal with and she got all the things that she wished for.
Malcolm Ellis
On behalf of my family, I would like to thank Lady Anne Funerals for a beautiful service yesterday for my aunt Dot. All who attended commented on how lovely the service was & the professionalism of all the staff. Thanks again very much for helping making a sad day one of celebration of Dot’s life.
Judith Neville

Related Articles

6 questions to ask a grieving friend

Everyone processes grief differently. When you have varying personality types and circumstances, it can make it extremely difficult to know what to say to a grieving friend.

Read More

How to approach end of life planning when your family live abroad

Our increasingly global society has made the world feel much smaller. We're becoming incredibly mobile and in many industries it’s easier than ever to move between cities or countries for an exciting job.

Read More

Alternative Funeral Music For Your Loved One's Service

Music is something that transcends culture, age, language and just about any other barrier in modern society. It brings us all back to a place where we connect to each other - as people. Music is something that helpstrue

Read More