Supreme Court rules that misleading hospital waiting times can class as negligence
Suing the NHS and their medical facilities is possible if they mislead you about waiting hospital times. The Supreme Court ruled that a hospital was in breach of its duty of care after its A&E reception staff informed a patient that they had to wait up to 5 hours. The claimant suffered permanent brain damage following the ‘incomplete and misleading’ information from the hospital staff and without objection, the justices upheld the appeal from the claimant.
After an assault, the claimant, Darnley visited Mayday Hospital in Croydon back in 2010 for a head injury treatment. Darnley was complaining of feeling unwell and requested urgent attention. The receptionist information was certainly misleading since the claimant left 19 minutes later after being informed he had to wait 4 to 5 hours for treatment. His condition later deteriorated rapidly. Evidence about a triage service to treat patients within 30 minutes that Darnley was not informed about was presented to the court. It was argued that had the claimant informed of the service, he would have stayed a little longer and he would have received treatment.
This would have been vital in helping him achieve a near-full recovery if he was at the hospital the moment his symptoms worsened. While the judges at the Court of Appeal had dismissed Darnley’s claim, the Supreme Court’s judgement overturned the decision. The case will be returned to the Queen’s Bench Division for damages assessment.
Lord Lloyd-Jones, giving the lead judgement in Darnley v Croydon Health Services NHS Trust said the hospital had a duty to ensure no misleading information that could potentially cause injury is given. In this regard, it was inappropriate to distinguish between medical and non-medical staff.
He further added that at the Court of Appeal, the majority failed to distinguish between issues as to the existence of a duty of care and those as a negligent breach of the same duty. There is a misplacement of the observations on the social expenses of imposing such a duty of care since this is not a new head of liability for NHS health trusts and in such event, the undesirable impacts of imposing the duty in question were overstated considerably.
Lord Justice Jackson in the appeal judgement had stated that upholding could make litigation a ‘fertile area’ for future claimants as well as their solicitors, noted Lord Lloyd-Jones. This was said in argument about what was said in the waiting rooms of A&E departments.
Demonstrating that suing the NHS Trusts is possible, Lord Lloyd-Jones argued against the appeal judgement by saying that no reason was there why the factual context of an A&E department was likely to lead to any difficulties and provision of misleading information was still a burden to the claimant.
A senior solicitor at Bolt Burdon Kemp law firm in London, Tom Lax made comments about the Darnley case. He said this shouldn’t be considered as an expansion of the clinical negligence law but individuals should note that not to provide misleading information to patients is a straightforward thing to uphold.
Tom advised for procedures to be put in place in all NHS trusts to ensure accurate information about waiting times is given to patients when they arrive in hospitals instead of turning the receptionists into victims of similar claims.