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When Does the Duty of Care Begin?

posted 7 months ago

At 3 o’clock in the morning, a 40-year-old man attended a large Accident and Emergency Department in a Major Hospital. He booked in and then took a seat in the back corner of a waiting room.

It was a very busy night, the waiting room was full, and his name was called around 8.30am. He did not reply and was assumed to have left the hospital. Three hours later, another patient in the waiting room noticed him slumped in the corned and assumed he was asleep. When she was called herself, she mentioned to the nurse about the man, and when the nurse approached him he was dead. Post mortem revealed he had sustained a heart attack.

Investigation revealed he had told reception staff he had severe indigestion, and so his priority was regarded as being low.

When he first attended and reported to reception, the hospital and its Accident and Emergency Department were under a duty of care to him. Other patients came and went, but no one approached him. The hospital was severely censured by the coroner for a clear breach of the duty of care towards this man, even though they claimed they were busy with other patients through the night, and the information he had given to the receptionist had not led them to believe he had any priority. Not being seen by any nurse or doctor for nine hours was regarded as being totally unacceptable.

MDU figures for 2022 show that fewer than one in six actions in medical negligence actually succeed, with the vast majority failing on the grounds of causation. It must be remembered that subsequence is not the same as consequence.

Initial screening is, therefore, essential to manage client expectations at an early stage. This avoids unnecessary effort and costs for all concerned. Too many cases are taken to court with no chance of success. This is stressful for both the client and their legal adviser, and indeed for the medical personnel involved.

For fast and effective screening of all potential medical negligence cases, contact Peyton Medico Legal Services now on +44 (0)28 87724177 or email [email protected]

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