Doctors’ duties to relatives of patients

As noted by Nigel Poole in his blog, Smith v University of Leicester NHS Trust [2016] EWHC 817 9QB) is an interesting decision for its consideration of an argument as to a doctor’s duty to relatives of a patient.

The patient suffered from adrenomyeloneuropathy (AMN) which is a complex relatively longstanding genetic disease which adversely impacts upon the white matter of the brain. It was argued that there was a delay in diagnosis of the AVN, which in turn meant that relatives of the patient (relevantly, two second cousins) were not diagnosed with childhood versions of the condition sooner. One of the second cousins died (cardio-respiratory arrest) and the other suffered intellectual and related impairments.

The defendant sought to have the claim struck out on the basis that a duty of care did not exist: [19].

In a brief decision, the court struck out the claim on the basis that there was no duty between a hospital / doctor and someone who is not a patient: [29]. (No reference appears to have been made to the Australian cases relating to HIV transmission.)

Reference was made to an earlier decision of ABC v St Georges Healthcare [2015] EWHC 1394 (QB) which is presently on appeal, with a hearing expected in 2017.



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