On 10 October 2018, the important Supreme Court judgment in Darnley (Appellant) v Croydon Health Services NHS Trust (Respondent)  UKSC 50 laid to rest any suggestion that non-medical hospital staff do not owe a duty of care to patients.
On the facts, the Appellant was wrongly advised by an A&E receptionist that he would have to wait for 4-5 hours to see a doctor. In fact, he had a head injury and would have been triaged by a triage nurse within 30 minutes. In the event, he felt too unwell to wait for 4-5 hours, left the hospital and suffered a collapse, leading ultimately to a severe and disabling brain hemiplegia. The trial judge found that if he had been told that he would be triaged within 30 minutes, he would have remained in hospital, would have suffered his collapse in hospital and would have made a full or near-full recovery.
The duty of care owed by a receptionist in A&E was characterised as follows:
“A receptionist in an A & E department cannot, of course, be expected to give medical advice or information but he or she can be expected to take reasonable care not to provide misleading advice as to the availability of medical assistance. The standard required is that of an averagely competent and well-informed person performing the function of a receptionist at a department providing emergency medical care.”
The Court made clear that “the particular role performed by the individual concerned” will be likely to have an important bearing on the questions of duty of care and breach.