New Onus On A&E Receptionists?

In a reversal of the Court of Appeal decision in Darnley v Croydon NHS Trust (2017), the Supreme Court has unanimously confirmed a medical receptionist does have a duty of care towards patients and that supplying inaccurate or incomplete information may be a breach of that duty.

Mr Darnley 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 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 he was found to have suffered a 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 in treatment.

The Supreme Court ruled that the NHS has a duty of care towards its patients, irrespective of whether their staff are medical or non-medical.

The Court decided the information given to Mr Darnley about his likely treatment time was sufficiently misleading to make the NHS responsible for his resultant brain damage. Although the Court recognised NHS receptionists could not be expected to be pinpoint accurate on treatment times, it did not clarify what degree of inaccuracy is acceptable before the duty of care is breached. Would the Court have still considered the receptionist negligent if she had instead told Mr Darnley he would be seen in one hour?

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