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Accessible legal tips, know-how and news for anyone with a complaint or legal issue from Stephen Gold, author of The Return of Breaking Law, the book

Wednesday 17 October 2018


Michael Darnley was struck on the head by an unknown assailant. To A&E at Croydon's Mayday Hospital he went, with  a friend.

'I have been assaulted by being struck over the back of the head. I think I have a head injury. I am feeling unwell. My head is hurting.  I need urgent attention.'

'You will have to go and sit down and you will have to wait four or five hours before somebody looks at you. '

' I cannot wait that long. I feel I am about to collapse.'

' If you do collapse, you will be treated as an emergency.'

That was broadly the conversation between Mr Darnley and the receptionist. 19 minutes after arriving and without telling the hospital, he left. He later did collapse and was hospitalised and underwent surgery. Unhappily, he suffered permanent brain damage. Had he stayed, the collapse would have taken place in a hospital setting, he would have received earlier surgery and he would have made a complete recovery.

The information given to Mr Darnley by the receptionist had been incorrect and incomplete. It had influenced his decision to go. He sued the hospital. The trial judge threw out his claim. He appealed. The Court of Appeal (by a majority decision, with one judge disagreeing with his two colleagues) threw out the appeal. The Supreme Court has just unanimously allowed the appeal.* He will receive damages.

This was the Supreme Court's reasoning. To succeed, Mr Darnley had to prove that the hospital owed him a legal duty of care; that it had breached that duty; and that, as a result, he had been injured. Those who ran a casualty department DID owe a duty of care BEFORE someone was treated or admitted who was complaining of illness or injury to take reasonable care not to cause them injury. It mattered not to whether the duty existed that the actions of administrative staff rather than unqualified professionals were under scrutiny.

The duty of care HAD been breached by the receptionist. Had he remained, Mr Darnley should have been seen by a triage nurse within 3o minutes. Patients in Mr Darnley's position should be provided on arrival with accurate information that this is so. It was not unreasonable to require receptionists to take reasonable care not to provide misleading information as to the likely availability of medical assistance.

And the fact that Mr Darnley made his exit before seeing someone, did not prevent him from succeeding in his claim. Had he been told he had a 30 minute wait for triage, he would have stayed. It was reasonably foreseeable that, told what he was, he would have made off.

* Darnley v Croydon Health Services NHS Trust [2018] UKSC 50