The Court of Appeal has rejected a claim from an emergency patient who relied on misleading advice from a hospital receptionist.
Assault victim Michael Darnley had attended Mayday Hospital in Croydon, London, with a head injury but was told by a receptionist he might have to wait up to five hours to be seen.
After 19 minutes he decided to go home, unaware that a triage nurse was due to examine him within half an hour of arrival. Darnley was found later to have suffered an extradural haematoma and sustained long-term disabilities.
Darnley claimed for negligence against Croydon Health Services NHS Trust based on the actions of the receptionist but lost his case in the High Court in July 2015, prompting an appeal.
Following a one-day hearing last month, Lord Justice Jackson said the original judgment had been correct to rule the hospital receptionist did not have legal responsibility.
The appeal court said the fair view was that information was provided as a matter of courtesy and a spirit of trying to be helpful to the public, but that advice about waiting time was not subject to a duty of care in law.
In Darnley v Croydon Health Services NHS Trust, Jackson said he saw force in the judge’s concerns about the ‘floodgate’ argument that a successful claim would encourage a wave of similar cases.
He said: ‘Litigation about who said what to whom in A & E waiting rooms could become a fertile area for claimants and their representatives.
‘Alternatively, healthcare providers could close down this area of risk altogether by instructing reception staff to say nothing to patients apart from asking for their details.’
He added that even if he was wrong about incorrect information being a breach of duty, the scope of that duty could not extend to liability for the consequences of patients walking out without telling the staff they were leaving.
While Lord Justice Sales concurred with Jackson, Lord Justice McCombe disagreed, arguing the defendant was in breach of its duty to the claimant and that that breach caused the claimant’s injury.