An Australian man sent to a morgue was still alive and may have tried to get out of his body bag, a doctor has claimed.
The following day, a doctor observed the man as being dead but with his eyes open and fresh blood on his gown, suggesting he had died in the morgue after being left there.
A coroner’s court confirmed it was investigating the alleged incident.
The patient, who was in palliative care at Rockingham General Hospital in Western Australia, was identified by local media as Kevin Reid, 55.
Staff reportedly concluded Mr Reid was dead on Sept 5 and informed his relatives before transferring him to the morgue, but a death certificate was not immediately issued.
The next day, a doctor certifying the death was said to have found macabre signs that the patient may have been alive when taken to the morgue.
According to a report by Business News, hospital staff told the doctor Mr Reid’s body had been placed in the morgue in a resting position, in a clean gown, with his eyes closed.
But the doctor discovered that there was blood on the gown, the body was lying differently to how it had been left, the bag was unzipped and the eyes were open.
The doctor reportedly wrote to the coroner: “I believe the fresh blood from a new skin tear, arm position, and eye signs were inconsistent with a person who was post-mortem on arrival at the morgue.”
The doctor certified the death on Sept 6 but, according to reports, indicated that he was later asked to backdate it to Sept 5.
His concerns that Mr Reid may not in fact have died until Sept 6 then emerged, and he alerted the coroner’s office.
A coroner’s office spokesman said: “After receiving notification from a doctor at the Rockingham Hospital of the death of a 55-year-old man, the coroner’s court commenced to investigate whether the death is a reportable death.
“The court does not make public any of those investigations.”
Opposition politicians in Western Australia said the incident showed how strained the health system was.
Libby Mettam, deputy leader of the Liberal Party of Western Australia, said it was “absolutely horrific” and called for an investigation.
She added: “It is also deeply disturbing that a direction may have been given to a doctor to backdate the death certificate of this patient.
“What more needs to happen in this health system before the government takes the crisis across our health system seriously?”
‘The body is a complex organism’
The South Metropolitan Health Service denied that Mr Reid had been alive when placed in a body bag.
Paul Forden, the health service’s chief executive, insisted a body could move after death.
He said: “I’ve talked to some senior pathologists and senior doctors.
“The human body is a complex organism and actually there is movement post-mortem, fluids are discharged close to death.”
He added that the hospital’s own investigation was into “procedures following the death of a patient, not into whether the patient was deceased.”
Incidents of mistaken death are rare but not unprecedented.
Two years ago an American woman was declared dead by paramedics, but funeral home workers who were about to embalm the body discovered she was alive.
Timesha Beauchamp, 20, in Michigan, was born with cerebral palsy and had been found not breathing when paramedics were called to her home.
In May, a man in a care home in Shanghai was wrongly declared dead, placed in a body bag and taken to a morgue.