Unique NHS Payout For Head Injury Man

In a recent judgement handed down by the UK Supreme Court, Croydon Health Services NHS Trust found itself blamed for incorrect information about waiting times given to an assault victim by a non-clinically trained hospital receptionist. Consequently, the patient, Michael Darnley, suffered severe and lasting consequences. 

In May 2010, Mr Darnley went to the Accident and Emergency (A&E) Department at Croydon University Hospital. Accompanied by a friend, he voiced concern about a blow to the back of his head in an assault by an unknown attacker. However, the female receptionist informed the twenty-six-year-old patient that the waiting time would be four to five hours. 

According to his subsequent statement, Mr Darnley decided to go home after nineteen minutes, to take painkillers and rest. Unfortunately, once there, his condition deteriorated. He collapsed before returning to Croydon A&E in an ambulance and, later, was rushed to St George’s Hospital in Tooting. There, the casualty underwent emergency surgery for an extradural haematoma or a bleed on the brain. Pressure from a blood clot between his brain and skull bone caused nerve damage and consequent permanent paralysis down the left side of his body. 

Had Mr Darnley waited in A&E longer, it transpired, a triage nurse would probably have seen him within thirty minutes. Nonetheless, the plaintiff contended that triage nurses should have assessed him within fifteen minutes of arrival at the hospital, not half an hour. 

Supreme Court Judgement

After debating whether an extra four (or fifteen) minutes were tantamount to a breach of duty or not, the judicial panel of five considered the responsibility of A&E reception staff to give accurate information regarding expected waiting periods to members of the public who present with medical problems. 

Although lower courts had focussed on legal precedents and case law (Caparo Industries plc vs. Dickman, 1990), the Supreme Court determined that the Caparo principles were not relevant in every instance when a duty of care existed. Instead, they found that Mr Darnley’s circumstances fell within the provisions of a noteworthy 1969 judgement that defined the responsibility to prevent further physical injury to patients. Nowadays, this duty lies with hospital trusts. Moreover, the judges commented, it was not appropriate to distinguish between medical and non-medical staff. 

Lord Lloyd-Jones went on to emphasise that the Court’s judgement did not create a new duty for NHS trusts, but instead highlighted the importance of not giving incorrect information to patients regarding the availability of medical help. In its summary, the Supreme Court found that the information provided to the patient regarding a four to five-hour wait for head injury treatment was incomplete, misleading and negligent. In what is probably the first case of its kind, the receptionist was held to be at fault. 

Duty Of Care

Finally, although the findings might add to the enormous pressures on medical staff and facilities, the five Justices considered that receptionists do have to exercise reasonable care. The patient would now be entitled to damages, which the High Court will evaluate. 

If you or a family member has suffered similar injuries due to medical negligence, you may wish to discuss the case for brain damage compensation. To receive free initial expert advice in total confidence, contact us here today. Click the link to read more about brain injury claims.