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Bolam v Friern Hospital Management Committee

[1957] 1 WLR 582

Case summary last updated at 19/01/2020 12:04 by the Oxbridge Notes in-house law team.

Judgement for the case Bolam v Friern Hospital Management Committee

(at QBD, before a judge and jury) P underwent electric shock treatment at a mental hospital and suffered injury. He sued the hospital for negligence in (1) not supplying a muscle relaxant or restraint (there were competent doctors arguing for the relaxant, others for the restraint, and others for no restraint) and (2) for not warning him of the danger of the operation (most doctors at trial said this was usual practice since the risk was slight). In his direction, McNair J stated that (1) choosing one technique that was accepted by a body of competent doctors could not establish negligence merely because other competent doctors opposed it; (2) that it was necessary to establish whether D had fallen below the required standard of his duty of care in not telling the patient about the risk. To establish the latter it had to be shown both that D had fallen below the standard of common medical practice AND that had D been warned of the slight risk, he would have refused the treatment. 
McNair J: normally negligence relates to acts which the “ordinary man” would or would not do. In cases of skilled professionals it relates to what the “ordinary skilled professional” would do. In cases of “skilled professionals”, there is NO qualification of “in all the circumstances”, or you could get crazy doctors/doctors who fall below skill level, who, for example, don’t believe that anaesthetic works, escaping negligence claims. The aim is to ensure that the standards of modern competent practitioners are adhered to or compensation is owed. 

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