A man has become the first person in the UK to be awarded compensation for an injury caused by a receptionist giving misleading information at A&E.
Michael Darnley, 34, was left paralysed after he was wrongly told he faced a five-hour wait in hospital for treatment to a head wound.
After being told about the wait, he left Mayday Hospital in Croydon – now called Croydon University Hospital – and returned home, where he suffered a bleed on the brain in May 2010.
Now, more than eight years on, the Supreme Court has ruled the giving of such information to be negligent.
Mr Darnley sued Croydon Health Services NHS Trust at a High Court trial and, though his claim was first rejected, the Court of Appeal later upheld it.
Announcing the decision today, Lord David Lloyd-Jones, one of the Supreme Court judges, said: The appellant was misinformed as to the true position and, as a result, misled as to the availability of medical assistance.
The trial judge made the critical finding that it was reasonably forseeable that a person who believes that it may be four or five hours before he will be seen by a doctor may decide to leave.
In the light of that finding, I have no doubt that the provision of such misleading information by a receptionist as to the time within which medical assistance might be available was negligent.
The court heard Mr Darnley told the told an A&E receptionist he was worried his head injury needed urgent attention, but she told him to sit down and said he would have to wait up to five hours to be seen by a doctor.
However, after 19 minutes he left the hospital because he felt too unwell and wanted to go home to take some painkillers.
Within an hour of returning home, he collapsed and was rushed back to the hospital by ambulance before being transferred to another hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery, Independent says. He suffered left-side paralysis.
Deborah Blythe, the mans solicitor, said this was an unprecedented case.
She added: Despite fears expressed by hospital trusts, this will not lead to a new layer of responsibility for clerical staff or a new layer of liability for the NHS. The reception area of an A&E department is the first point of contact between the public and the hospital seeking medical assistance.
The decision does not mean that reception staff should accurately state the precise time a patient would be seen by medically qualified staff. They must take reasonable care not to provide misleading information about availability of medical assistance.
The amount of damages will be assessed by the High Court at a later date.