UK Supreme Court finds hospital negligent for misleading advice on waiting time

UK Supreme Court finds hospital negligent for misleading advice on waiting time
Oct 10, 2018

UK Supreme Court finds hospital negligent for misleading advice on waiting time

On the 10 October 2018, the UK Supreme Court handed down a Judgment on Duty of Care. (Darnley (Appellant) v Croydon Health Services NHS trust (Respondent) [2018] UKSC 50 on appeal from [2017] EWCA Civ 15). This decision impacts any clinical negligence claims of a similar nature in the Cayman Islands.

Following a head injury, the Claimant, Mr Darnley was taken by a friend to the Accident and Emergency ward of his local Hospital. Despite detailing the nature of his injury and severity of his symptoms, he was told by the receptionist that the wait to be seen by a doctor would be 4-5 hours. He advised the receptionist he felt extremely unwell and was near to collapse, the receptionist advised him that should he collapse, he would be treated as an emergency.

After waiting nineteen minutes, Mr Darnley felt too unwell to continue to wait and was taken to his mother’s house where a short while later he became extremely distressed and was taken by ambulance back to the Hospital. An emergency CT scan showed a large blood clot. He was transferred to another Hospital where he underwent emergency surgery. Unfortunately, Mr Darnley suffered irreparable brain damage leaving him significantly disabled at the age of 26.

Proceedings were brought against the National Health Service (NHS) Trust alleging a breach of duty of care by the reception staff, specifically concerning the wait time estimate he was given and the failure to properly assess Mr Darnley for priority triage. The High Court dismissed the initial claim with the Judge deciding that it would not be reasonable to impose liability upon the NHS Trust for harm arising as a result of the failure by the receptionist staff to inform Mr Darnley of the likely waiting time to be seen by a triage nurse. The Judge concluded that Mr Darnley’s decision to leave the hospital was ultimately his own.

The decision was appealed and at the Court of Appeal, a majority decision was reached again in favour of the NHS on the grounds that neither the receptionist nor the health trust acting by the receptionist, owed any duty to advise about waiting times. Furthermore, they found that the damage was outside the scope of any duty owed and there was no causal link between any breach of duty and the injury.

The Supreme Court handed down their Judgment on the 10 October 2018, disagreeing with the previous findings and allowing the Appeal. They believed the case fell squarely within an established category of duty of care. They held that as soon as the Mr Darnley was registered at reception, he entered into a relationship of patient and health care provider. The NHS trust had empowered its non-medically qualified staff with the role of being the first point of contact for persons seeking medical assistance and consequently with the responsibility for providing correct information as to its availability. The Supreme Court also felt the decision to leave was reasonable considering the excessive anticipated wait time and thus was made, at least in part, because of the misleading information provided. Had he been told of the standard wait time of 30 minutes for head injuries, he likely would have stayed, and his collapse would have happened in the hospital whereby immediate attention and surgical intervention may have resulted in a full recovery.

Giving the lead judgment, Lord Lloyd-Jones said the hospital’s duty included a duty to take reasonable care not to provide misleading information which could foreseeably cause injury. It was not appropriate in this regard, he said, to distinguish between medical and non-medical staff.

This is positive news for patients of health practitioners in that it has established that even non-clinically trained staff do owe a duty of care to a patient.

KSG Attorneys offer free consultations to individuals who have suffered injury as a result of any clinical negligence, and can provide clear advice in respect of pursuing a claim.