Posted by: medicblog999 | September 24, 2010

You can’t be serious???

Whenever I deal with a sudden death, or ‘code purple’ as we call it, part of the guidelines that I adhere to is that I phone the patients GP surgery (family doctor) to inform them of his or her death. The GP does not need to come out to the address as I can formally ‘recognise life extinct’, and complete the relevant paperwork so that the patient can be removed from the place of death and can be taken to the relevant mortuary.

If I am at a sudden death outside of normal working hours, then I have to contact the GP Out of hour’s service, which is a central hub of locum GPs who provide coverage for non emergent medical need when the normal surgeries are closed.

I recently had the need to place one of these calls, and this is how it went….

“Hello GP out of hour’s service, what’s the patients name please?”

“Mr Tom Smith”

“Okay, and Mrs Smiths date of birth?

And so it continued through the usual patient details section, until we get to the main question…

“And what appears to be the problem?”

“I’m actually a paramedic and am at Mr Smiths’ home address. Unfortunately, he has been found dead by his family tonight, and I need you to pass a notification to his own GP surgery in the morning to let them know what has happened”

“Oh dear……….Okay, I just have a couple more questions for you…”

Hold your breath, here we go…….

“Right now. Is Mr Smith breathing?”

“Pardon Me???”

“Do you know if Mr Smith is breathing?”

“I’ve just told you that he is dead, so I would hope not!”

“Oh, that’s right. Of course. Sorry. Silly me!……..Was Mr Smith Breathing within the last 5 minutes?”

“Again, If he had been breathing in the last five minutes, I wouldn’t be on the phone to you, I would be a little bit busy trying to do something about it!”

“Oh, okay, right. Of course”

“Can we assume that as I am a paramedic on scene, who has certified that this patient has died, that we don’t need to go through the triage questions that are on screen in front of you?”

“Oh no, I need to ask the questions”

“No you don’t, this patient is dead so I am sure you can answer the questions for him”

“But I might need to send an ambulance…”

“I’m already here. You don’t need to send anyone else. I don’t need to speak to a Doctor, I don’t need any help, and I don’t need anyone to come out to the address. I just need you to let the patients own surgery know that he has died when they open up in the morning, ok?”

“Oh, ok then. No problem. Thanks for the call, goodnight”


After shaking my head, having a little laugh and thinking what a great blog post this would make, I continued completing my forms to leave with the police that had now arrived. As I was in the middle of speaking to the police officers my mobile phone rang.


“Yes, hello there, my name is Dr Jones, and I have been given a message to ring you”

Count to 10 Mark…….1….2…..3…….4…….5……..


  1. Pay peanuts; get…

  2. Urgh!

    Head meet desk.

    Repeat x 10

  3. Oh, government healthcare, how we in the States look forward to you…… *rolls eyes*

  4. Here’s your sign….

  5. This is a truly maddening experience. While we don’t contact GPs directly for death notifications, I have had similar episodes when calling doctor’s offices during business hours to get medications and history for patients who are unable to answer questions. I’ve been told several times that I should hang up and call an ambulance since the patient cannot respond. Wow…just, wow.

  6. This exact thing happens to me calling base. only thing is it costs 3x more than Mark’s system but is just as silly. Did anyone notice Mark got a callback from the Pt’s Doctor after hours?

    Get Blue Shield to do that and I’ll change my mind.

  7. I’m impressed that you call it a Code Purple. Seems like it might carry the possibility of appearing a bit… descriptive.

  8. Aaaaaggggghhhhh!!!!! It’s sometimes amazing that these people are able to dress themselves in the mornings….

  9. I had to laugh when I read this post, but when you sit down and think about it, its really bad to think that this happens!

    I can remember back a few years when exactly the same happened to me and am now thankful that our Control does this for us now!!

  10. I came over here from Grand Rounds, and though I realize you’re using pseudonyms (to protect the potentially not-so-innocent), I couldn’t help hear “Dr. Jones! Dr. Jones” in a little Indian boy’s voice as I read the end. My parents both volunteered as EMTs for a while and have plenty of storise from their time “in the trenches.” Thank you for your service to the community, it’s a vital need that really requires a dedicated person to stick with it.

  11. Reads more like an updated “Dead Parrot Sketch” than a real phone call, but I know it’s a real phone call.

    This morning one of our BLS ambulances was dispatched to a local nursing home for an “Assist”. One of the patients called and complained that she needed to be changed and the staff was too slow. What’s amazing is that the 9-1-1 operator put the call into the system. What’s even more amazing is that the dispatcher sent an ambulance. The field supervisor heard the call, read the comments on his computer screen, and ordered the dispatcher to cancel the ambulance. We deal with morons on all levels in EMS.

  12. err monkeys ross *makes a monkeynoise*. Anyways it’s all a bit strange as most out of hours call takers you’d hope wouldn’t triage paramedics.
    I’m a little worried about some of the generalisations going on here.

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