Bolam v Friern Hospital Management Committee: Medical negligence

Areas of applicable law: Tort law – Duty of care – Medical negligence:

Main arguments in this case: The Bolam test is a key case in tort law which states that when a professional has acted in a way that is deemed negligent, he cannot be held guilty if the methods and the way he acted with were compatible with other professionals in his trade.

The facts of the case: In Bolam v Frien Hospital Management Committee (1957), the patient was suffering from depression and was given electro-convulsive treatment. The hospital carried out the therapy without giving the patient any drugs to relax his muscles. He was also not physically restrained during the treatment. As a result, the patient fell and broke his pelvis. The doctor who carried out the treatment was backed up by the medical council, and other doctors who agreed with the way the treatment was carried out. There were however differing opinions from other doctors. Some doctors were in favour of using the relaxant drugs, and some were not.

The House of Lords held that the doctor was not negligent as he had acted in a way other doctors would have acted given the same situation. Just because some professionals had a contrary view did not mean the standard of care chosen by the defendant was wrong.

This case however contradicts Bolitho in which the House of Lords decided that merely having a professional body backing up a medical professional does not mean that he cannot be held negligent.

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