Darnley v Croydon Health Services NHS Trust [2018]: Hospital found negligent after providing misleading information on A&E waiting time

  • November 7, 2018
  • Background

    The Supreme Court has handed down the landmark decision of Darnley v Croydon Health Services NHS Trust. The Court reviewed whether it was fair, just and reasonable to impose a duty of care on the receptionist in A&E.

    Mr Darnley’s claim was dismissed in the High Court in 2015 and the decision was upheld in the Court of Appeal by a 2:1 majority in 2017. The Supreme Court has overturned the decision of the Court of Appeal, ruling in favour of Mr Darnley.

    The Facts

    The Claimant, Mr Darnley, attended A&E at the Croydon University Hospital, formerly Mayday Hospital, in 2010 having suffered a head injury during an assault. A receptionist (not clinically trained) at the hospital advised Mr Darnley that he might have to wait up to five hours or treatment. After waiting for approximately 19 minutes he discharged himself and left for his mother’s house.

    The information provided by the reception staff was inaccurate as the actual system in place at the Hospital’s A&E department stated that a triage nurse would examine a patient within 30 minutes of arrival. Shortly after Mr Darnley had left the triage nurse had arrived.

    After Mr Darnley arrived home his condition deteriorated rapidly and he returned to the hospital by ambulance. A CT scan was carried out and it was found that an extradural haematoma was present. Mr Darnley was transferred to St George’s Hospital where he was operated on.

    The Trial at First Instance and the Court of Appeal

    At trial Mr Darnley claimed that he would have expected “a receptionist to tell a head injury patient that he will be triaged within 30 minutes…Had the Claimant been told this he would have stayed and would not have suffered the damage which was in fact sustained.”.

    The Defendant argued “The imposition of such a duty would be unreasonable and…would make being an NHS receptionist impossible.”. The Trust further argued the act of Mr Darnley leaving was an independent act which broke the chain of causation.

    Referencing the case of Caparo Industries PLC v Dickman & Others (1990), the question was whether or not it was fair, just and reasonable to impose a duty of care on the non-clinically trained receptionist. The High Court rejected the Claimant’s arguments and found in favour of the Trust. This was upheld by the Court of Appeal who found “reception staff in the A&E department…were there to perform a clerical function…. Giving information about waiting times was not part of their function.”.

    Supreme Court Judgment

    In overturning the Court of Appeal’s judgment the Supreme Court held that a duty of care was owed by those who provide and run a casualty department to members of the public present complaining of illness or injury. This duty extended to not providing misleading information about waiting times which may have foreseeably caused injury to Mr Darnley. This duty remained regardless of the fact a non-medically trained receptionist provided the information instead of a doctor or some other medically trained professional.

    The Court found that the Court of Appeal had not taken into account the misleading information and thus the chain of causation remained.

    What our specialists have to say

    Inez Brown, Partner from Medical Accident Group said: “Over 450,000 people attend A&E in England every week. Whilst this decision has an enormous impact on untrained staff it will allow measures to be put in place by NHS Trusts to help staff provide accurate information about waiting times upon arrival at an A&E department. Had accurate information been provided to Mr Darnley he may not have suffered life changing injuries.” 

    As a highly experienced firm with expert teams based in Birmingham and Worcester, we have secured awards for many clients following negligent medical treatment. If you or a member of your family have suffered from poor medical treatment, Medical Accident Group can help. Our team of specialist medical negligence solicitors have over 30 years’ experience. We will guide you through the process of making a claim. If you believe you have a claim, call the team now on 0800 050 1668.

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