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Bolam v Friern Hospital Management Committee [1957] 1 WLR 583

TORT – NEGLIGENCE – STANDARD OF CARE FOR MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS

Facts

The defendant was the body who employed a doctor who had not given a mentally-ill patient (the claimant) muscle-relaxant drugs nor restrained them prior to giving them electro-convulsive therapy. The claimant suffered injuries during the procedure. The claimant sued the defendant, claiming the doctor was negligent for not restraining them or giving them the drug.

Issue

Establishing the tort of negligence involves establishing that the defendant breached their duty of care to the claimant. To establish breach, the claimant must establish that the defendant failed to act as a reasonable person would in their position. This standard is higher in the case of professionals: they must act as a reasonable professional would.

The issue in this case was how to assess the standard of care imposed on a professional defendant where a substantial portion of professionals opposed a particular practice, while others did not.

Held

The High Court held that the doctor had not breached his duty to the patient, and so the defendant was not liable.

McNair J set out the test for determining the standard of care owed by medical professionals to their patients (sometimes referred to as the ‘Bolam test’). The professional will not be in breach of their duty of care if they acted in a manner which was in accordance with practices accepted as proper by a responsible body of other medical professionals with expertise in that particular area. If this is established, it does not matter that there are others with expertise who would disagree with the practice.

As the methods used in this case were approved of by a responsible portion of the medical profession, there was no breach.


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