Limits On The Duty Of Care

The Court of Appeal in the recent case of Darnley v Croydon NHS Trust (2017) held by a 2 to 1 majority that a medical receptionist does not have a duty of care towards patients, even though she may have given him incorrect information.

The case involved Mr Darnley who attended hospital after being struck on the head by an unknown assailant in May 2010. He arrived at the A&E Department at 8:26pm. He was informed by a receptionist that he would not be seen for another 4 or 5 hours although in fact he would have been assessed by a triage nurse within 30 minutes.

Mr Darnley then left the hospital unannounced at 8:45pm. At around 10pm an ambulance was called to his house. He was taken to St George's Hospital where it was found that he had suffered a left hemiplegia (a form of stroke). It was agreed that if he had been seen sooner his injuries would not have been as severe as they subsequently became due to the delay.

The Court held on public policy grounds it would be a step too far to impose a clinical duty of care on receptionists and that finding in favour of the claimant would mean that receptionists could refuse to give out any information in relation to timings etc which would make the running of busy A&E departments impossible.

We will never know if the Court would have found for the Claimant if he had informed the receptionist that he would leave unless he was seen or indeed whether this would ultimately have made any difference to the outcome of his injury.