Next of kin

Who is next of kin to a hospital patient?

The issue of who is next of kin to an unmarried partner is something that worries many cohabiting couples. Would you be given information about your partner’s condition? And would you even be allowed to see them in hospital? Might your family even argue about who is your next of kin?

Despite widespread use of the phrase, who is next of kin to a hospital patient is not actually defined in law. There is therefore no reason that your partner shouldn’t be treated as your ‘next of kin’ despite the fact that you are not married. However, in practice hospitals have generally used spouses and close blood relatives to define next of kin. This has been more common with same-sex partners, but has also happened to male-female partners.

Deciding who is next of kin: how hospitals define next of kin

As attitudes have changed and families have become more diverse, most hospitals are more flexible when they define next of kin. The policy in most NHS trusts is to ask you to nominate who is next of kin formally, on your admission to hospital. However, if you are unable to say because, for example, you are unconscious, we will try to work out who is the person closest to you. We may define next of kin wrong in this case, particularly if your personal circumstances are confusing or "unusual" – for example, if a hospital patient considers a best friend to be his or her next of kin, rather than a parent.

Showing who is next of kin to you: our next of kin card

We have created a next of kin card to make it absolutely clear to medical specialists who you have chosen to be your next of kin and how to contact the person. It has been designed so that it fits in your wallet and can be carried with you everywhere. If there is any disagreement about your next of kin information while you are unconscious, it can be called upon to prove your choice.

The information on this page was reproduced with the kind permission of the Advicenow website.


Download our next of kin card and fill in your next of kin information