A judgment of the English Court of Appeal which we called ‘bizarre’ and ‘peculiar’ has been predictably overturned by the UK Supreme Court. The Supreme Court found that the hospital run by the NHS Trust is liable to a patient with a head injury who had been given misinformation by the hospital receptionist that he would have to wait for four to five hours for a doctor, causing him to leave the hospital and go home where he suffered a collapse and subsequent permanent brain damage.
The court found that there is a well-established duty of those who run a casualty department to take reasonable care not to cause physical injury to patients reporting for treatment. As soon as the claimant was booked into the system he had a right to proper care.
Secondly, it is not appropriate to distinguish between medically qualified professionals and administrative staff. The duty of care is that of the hospital not of individual staff members. While it is not the function of reception staff to give wider advice, it is the duty of the hospital to take care not to provide misinformation.
Thirdly, the question is not so much whether the hospital owed a duty of care to the injured man (which it plainly did) but whether there had been a negligent breach of duty as a result of the failure to meet the standard reasonably expected.
The advice given by the receptionist was not in accordance with their usual practice and was negligent in the circumstances. On causation, had the patient been told he would be seen by a nurse within 30 minutes he would not have left the hospital, he would have been treated in time and he would probably have made a very near full recovery. Judgment was given in favour of the patient. Damages are still to be assessed.
The case is Darnley v Croydon Health Services NHS Trust.