The Supreme Court has handed down judgment in the case of Darnley v Croydon Health Services NHS Trust 2018 – this is an important decision for all patients with regard to the standard of care they can expect from non-medical staff such as receptionists.
Mr Darnley attended A&E with a head injury sustained as a result of an assault. On arrival he explained that he had suffered a head injury, was concerned as he felt very unwell and felt that he required urgent attention. He asked how long it would be before he was seen and the A&E receptionist told him that he would be waiting up to 4 to 5 hours. Mr Darnley told the receptionist that he felt that if he had to wait that long he was likely to collapse. The receptionist advised that if he did collapse he would then be treated as an emergency. In fact the hospital had in place a head injury protocol which required patients with head injuries to be seen within 30 minutes. After 19 minutes Mr Darnley decided to leave the hospital as he felt too unwell to wait.
At home, Mr Darnley deteriorated and became distressed. His family called an ambulance and on his return to hospital a CT scan revealed an extradural haematoma. He was taken to theatre, however, it was too late to avoid Mr Darnley sustaining a significant brain injury. Had Mr Darnley been triaged appropriately in A&E, he would have had surgery in time to avoid brain injury.
The trial judge and Court of Appeal both found against Mr Darnley on the basis that there was no duty of care owed by hospital receptionists to provide accurate information about waiting times and it would not be fair to impose a new duty of care on receptionists.
The Supreme Court overturned the lower courts’ decisions on the basis that when a patient presents to an A&E department a relationship of patient and healthcare provider is established. There is a duty of care within this relationship not to provide misleading information. It was not necessary to introduce a new duty of care to cover receptionists, as the duty of care was already owed by the hospital generally. In considering whether a duty of care arose, the Supreme Court did not consider it necessary to distinguish between care provided by medical and non-medical staff.
This is an important decision which establishes that patients are entitled to put their trust in all hospital staff whether or not medically qualified.
As a result of this decision, Mr Darnley will now receive a damages award which will provide him with the therapies, care and support he requires as a result of his life changing brain injury. It is hoped that hospitals will now recognise the importance of the information provided by non-medical staff and provide adequate training to ensure that the patients they interact with are not put at risk.
If you have concerns about medical negligence or a delay to your treatment, please contact Michelle Armstrong or one of Burnetts' award-winning medical negligence lawyers on 0191 3001833 / 01228 552222.