Is There a Duty to Ensure Advice Given by Reception Staff is Reasonably Accurate?

Yesterday the Supreme Court gave their verdict on a case concerning the liability of an NHS Trust following incorrect information given by a receptionist, in the A & E Department, to a patient attending with a head injury which resulted in that patient suffering a serious injury.

In Darnley v Croydon Health Services NHS Trust Mr Darnley had attended A & E following an assault in which he had suffered a head injury. He was told by the receptionist that he would have to wait four to five hours. He left after 19 minutes, not knowing the triage nurse would examine him within 30 minutes of arrival. His condition deteriorated and he was later taken back to hospital by ambulance, but by then had suffered permanent brain damage that could have been prevented.

There is no doubt that hospital A & E and GP receptions are very busy. However, there is a duty, to ensure the advice given to patients attending is reasonably accurate. In this case that information was in relation to waiting times. The receptionist was aware of the protocol in head injury cases; to be seen by the triage nurse within 30 minutes. This is not a new or expansion of the duty.

Had Mr Darnley been advised that he would be seen within 30 minutes he would have stayed, and when he did deteriorate this would have been in a hospital setting. He would have undergone appropriate treatment and would have made a full recovery.

As with all reports of cases in the media you only get a snapshot, and it is often where the misconception lies. Arguments that this decision will result in a new means of attacking the NHS are unfounded. The duty was there in the common law.

If you attend hospital or your GP practice you are entitled to receive accurate information from the staff, including the non-medical staff, and if that inaccurate information causes harm as a result then there is an entitlement in law to seek a remedy.

In this case Mr Darnley suffered serious permanent injury.  It is important that members of public attending hospitals as well as the staff, are protected by the law as it has developed in this area. This case re-enforces the duty of care between hospital and patient.