Croydon Health Services NHS Trust will have to pay damages to a patient who suffered permanent brain damage after being given false information about A&E waiting times, the Supreme Court ruled today.

Michael Darnley, then 26, suffered disabling paralysis in 2010 after an A&E receptionist at Mayday Hospital, now known as Croydon University Hospital, told him he would have to wait up to five hours to be treated for a head injury he sustained in a violent assault, when he should have been seen within 30 minutes.

Expecting a long wait, Mr Darnley left A&E, missing out on timely treatment that would have prevented the severe brain injury he suffered.

He called an ambulance that evening after his condition worsened, but the treatment he received came too late.

The judgement by the Supreme Court, the highest court in the UK, finally settles a highly contested case, overturning decisions by the lower courts, who denied that the Trust had breached a duty of care to Mr Darnley.

Responding to the decision, Dr Nnenna Osuji, Medical Director at Croydon Health Services NHS Trust, said: “We would like to apologise to Mr Darnley for the confusion around waiting times that occurred when he attended our Emergency Department after suffering an assault.

“We have always ensured that patients arriving at our Emergency Department are triaged by a nurse, so we can establish who needs treatment most urgently. At the time of Mr Darnley’s case, the courts heard that anyone with a head injury would have been assessed by a nurse within 30 minutes.

“For the past three years we have also had clinical streaming in the Emergency Department, so people are seen by a senior nurse within 15 minutes of arrival to ensure there is no delay if they require urgent treatment and through monitoring, any deterioration in their condition is quickly acted upon.

“We note the judgement of the Supreme Court and will carefully consider its implications for the Trust and our staff going forwards.”

The case has been referred back to the Queen’s Bench Division, a branch of the High Court, to decide how much the Trust will have to pay Mr Darnley in damages.

Deborah Blythe, Partner and Head of the Clinical Negligence team at Russell-Cooke, who represented Mr Darnley in the case said: "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."

Summing up the judgement, Lord Lloyd Jones said: “as soon as the appellant was ‘booked in’ at reception he entered into a relationship with the respondent of patient and health care provider.

“The scope of this duty of care extends to a duty to take reasonable care not to provide misleading information which may foreseeably cause physical injury.”