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Contacting relatives by phone to communicate the death of a resident during the COVID-19 pandemic


Breaking the news of the death of a resident by telephone, rather than face-to-face, can have an impact on your mental wellbeing. This guide talks you through making such a call in a way that is sensitive, compassionate and protects your wellbeing.

One of the most difficult parts of a carer’s job is to break the news of a patient’s death to their next of kin. In a pandemic this job is made even harder, as you may be having to break this news via phone call rather than face-to-face.

The University of Oxford’s Department of Psychiatry explains that having this conversation on the phone means you both lack non-verbal signals, such as body language. This makes it harder to understand other person’s level of understanding and their emotional state. This can also have an impact on carers’ psychological and physical well-being, so having to frequently break this news remotely might take a toll on your mental wellbeing.

To help, the Department has created a PDF guide and video which talk you through making such a difficult phone call. They break it down into seven steps, from ensuring the person you are speaking to is ready, through to establishing a plan for their loved one’s body. It also includes an optional section on advice you can offer if the person you have called is worried about breaking the news to children.

The PDF document is available below. If you’d prefer to listen to the information, it is also available in a video, which has optional English subtitles and lasts 5 minutes.

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University of Oxford Department of Psychiatry
The Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford

The Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford conducts research and teaches psychiatry to medical students.

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