Bolam v Friern Hospital – Case Summary

Bolam v Friern Hospital Management Committee

High Court

Citations: [1957] 1 WLR 582; [1957] 2 All ER 118; [1955-95] PNLR 7; (1957) 101 SJ 357; [1957] CLY 2431.

Facts

The claimant was a voluntary patient at the defendant’s mental health hospital who was injured during electro-convulsive therapy. He sued the defendant in negligence, arguing that the doctors had breached their duty of care by not giving him muscle relaxants or manually restraining him. Expert evidence showed that most doctors opposed the use of chemical relaxants. A small portion of competent doctors were also against the use of manual restraints as they thought it heightened the risk of injury.

Issue(s)
  1. What standard of care is owed by doctors in negligence when treating their patients?
Decision

The High Court held in favour of the defendants. The doctors were not in breach of their duty because a responsible body of medical professionals agreed with their practice.

This Case is Authority For…

A medical professional has not breached their duty of care if they acted in accordance with ‘a practice accepted as proper by a responsible body of medical men’ skilled in the relevant area. This is true even if another body of medical opinion would adopt a different course of action.

Other

The claimant in this case also argued that he should have been warned of the risk of injury. Applying the standard set out above, the doctor was not liable. Few doctors at the time warned their patients about the small risk of injury unless asked. However, this case is no longer good law on this point. Instead, in cases where claimant argues they should have been informed of something, the standard of care set out in Montgomery v Lanarkshire Health Board [2015] UKSC 11 applies.

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