Hospitals are responsible for the advice given by receptionists! – Darnley v Croydon Health Services NHS Trust

The Supreme Court have this month ruled that incorrect information on waiting times at A&E given by a  receptionist at the Mayday Hospital, Croydon resulting in permanent brain damage could be considered negligent. The Court decided that it justified an award of compensation in the same way as incorrect doctor’s advice or treatment would.

Mr Darnley attended A&E with a head injury and feeling very unwell, only to be told by the receptionist that there was a 4 or 5 hour waiting time before he could be seen by a doctor. After waiting for 19 minutes and feeling very unwell he left unable to face the prospect of several hours wait. He was returned to hospital later that night as an emergency. He was diagnosed as suffering a large bleed on the brain and despite surgery he suffered permanent brain damage. He and his legal team argued that he been treated sooner or immediately on collapse he would have made a nearly full recovery.  He made a claim for compensation against the NHS Trust who run the hospital for the brain damage suffered and its effect on his life.

The A&E receptionists working there agreed that in this situation they would usually advise a patient would seen by a Triage Nurse in 30 minutes and/or would consider priority Triage but neither admitted to giving the mistaken advice. Mr Darnley argues that if he had been told this he would never have left hospital after 19 minutes and the bleed would have been diagnosed and treated sooner. When this was first heard by a Judge the claim was unsuccessful. It was appealed and the Court of Appeal ruled that it was not negligent for incorrect advice on waiting times to be given by the receptionist and that the injury was not caused by this in any event.

Mr Darnley then appealed this further to the Supreme Court who have this month ruled that a receptionist giving waiting time advice in an A&E department like this has a duty of care to the patients to act appropriately. They are responsible for the advice given in the same way any medical professional is. These receptionists/non-medical staff were given the role by the Trust as the first point of contact and owed a duty to the patients. They also stated that there was a direct link between this advice on waiting times and the injury he suffered as a result and that earlier diagnosis would have resulted in admission and earlier treatment with a nearly full recovery.

This is an important case as it establishes that incorrect advice from non-medical staff working for NHS Trusts, in particular an A&E receptionist, which results in an injury to a person could justify a claim for damages like any other compensation claim arising out of negligence by medical professionals. The circumstances of each case and whether the  advice caused an injury will need to be considered but if you feel you have been in a situation like this please do not hesitate to speak to one of our solicitors on 01642 231110 for a free no obligation chat.

Joanne Davies – November 2018