Practical steps in the event of a staff death

In the unfortunate circumstance of a death in service, we understand the need to balance sensitivity with the practical need to administer pay and (if applicable) an NHS pension during a difficult time for the next of kin.

The purpose of this guidance is to provide you, the line manager, with a clear process that outlines the steps to take following the death of a colleague that reports to you.

The intention

  • To minimise additional distress for the late staff member’s next of kin
  • A respectful and sympathetic way of ensuring practicalities are dealt with
  • To ensure all employees receive equitable and fair treatment

It’s important that you work closely with your senior team, and HR&OD colleagues to ensure the family have a clear, collaborative and compassionate response from the NHS that is also culturally sensitive.

Step 1 – You will be made aware of a death in service

Step 2 – Talk to your director and HR&OD team to notify them that an employee has died

Step 3 – Talk to the late staff member’s next of kin to confirm if this news can be shared with the wider team

When you have permission from the next of kin to share the news:

Step 4 – With support from a senior colleague/s, inform your team of the staff member’s death and advise them of support available (for example chaplaincy, access to talking therapies, local and national support groups, Employee Assistance Programme and Occupational Health)

Step 5 – Send a personalised letter to the late staff member’s next of kin offering condolences

Step 6 – A second letter to the late staff member’s next of kin from the director of the service should also be sent to offer further condolences. If appropriate, this will be accompanied with flowers

Step 7 – A third letter to the late staff member’s next of kin will follow from HR to advise on the practical need of administering pensions and pay issues, as appropriate. The letter will request details of the executors of the estate

Step 8 – HR&OD team will ask you if the date of death is confirmed. Once confirmed, the HR&OD team will complete the death in service notification template to notify payroll and NHS Pensions. HR&OD team will confirm with NHS Pensions if the employee has completed a pension nomination form. This will determine the main beneficiary of pension benefits

Step 9 – The NHS Pensions team will work directly with the next of kin to complete pension documentation

Step 10 – You will need to arrange for any of the late staff member’s personal belongings to be returned to the family

Timescales for completing this process in full may vary depending on the timeliness of sharing information and completing the relevant paperwork.

Many organisations are also looking at different debriefing or reflective practice conversations (such as Schwartz rounds, learning or compassion circles and other group conversations) to support staff and offer them an opportunity to reflect and talk about how they feel during emotional circumstances. Speak to your line manager or HR&OD lead to see which services are already being offered locally and how you can get involved.