Can A Hospital Receptionist Be Held Negligent?

In Darnley v Croydon Health Services NHS Trust (2018) a 26 year old man attended A & E and told the receptionist that he had suffered a head injury. He was told that he would have to wait up to four to five hours. In fact, he would have been seen by a triage nurse within thirty minutes. The man told the receptionist that he could not wait that long as he felt he was about to collapse. The receptionist replied that if he did collapse he would be treated as an emergency.

The man wandered off after nineteen minutes and went to his mother’s home. His condition deteriorated and he was taken by ambulance to the hospital. He underwent surgery however suffered permanent brain damage.

The man brought Court proceedings against the hospital, however the judge decided that it would not be fair, just and reasonable to impose liability on the hospital for harm arising as a result of the receptionist’s failure to inform him of the likely waiting time to be seen by a triage nurse. This decision was appealed however dismissed in the Court of Appeal.  A further appeal was made to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court decided that as soon as the man booked in at reception he entered into a relationship with the hospital which owed him a duty to take reasonable care not to provide misleading information which may foreseeably cause injury.

A receptionist in A & E could not be expected to give medical advice, but could be expected to take reasonable care not to provide misleading advice as to the availability of medical assistance. The receptionist on duty at the time was aware that the standard procedure for anyone complaining of a head injury would be seen by a triage nurse and that patient would be told that they would be seen in thirty minutes of arrival.

The Judge found that the man’s decision to leave was reasonably foreseeable on the basis of the misleading information. If the man had been told he would be seen within thirty minutes he would have stayed in the waiting area.

This is the first case where an A & E receptionist has been found negligent for giving inaccurate information about waiting times. It confirms that non-medical staff can make an organisation liable.

If you wish to discuss a situation where you feel a receptionist has been negligent towards you, please contact Shefa Begum on (01702) 238508.

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