Appeal success for midwife

Rhodes-Hampton v Worthing and Southlands Hospital NHS Trust (Court of Appeal - 20 November 2007)

The claimant was employed by the defendant as a midwife. Mrs L, a patient, was taken on a bed into the adjacent recovery room with only the anaesthetist and the claimant present. The claimant had no training in recovery procedures. Mrs L assaulted the claimant when she woke up confused after having a Caesarean operation under a general anaesthetic. After calming her down, Mrs L became agitated again. She assaulted the claimant a second time, causing her injuries. At first instance, the defendant succeeded in its defence.

The claimant appealed and was successful. It was held that cot sides should have been fitted so that they were ready to be raised immediately in any difficulty. Best practice was to have two trained recovery staff, as well as the anaesthetist. The defendant submitted that this was for the benefit of the patient but it was held that it must be at least partly for staff safety to enable any emergency to be properly managed. Also, there was the question of the claimant's training.

Where the doctor responsible for the care of a patient is present it could not be correct to say that the claimant midwife was responsible for the management of the patient. The claimant's lack of experience meant that she was ill equipped to make decisions, and the anaesthetist should have made arrangements for more employees and for the cot sides to be fitted after the first assault.

COMMENT

There are no new principles to be derived from this case. The core point, which is of general application in an employers' liability context, is that employers cannot say that an inexperienced and untrained employee is responsible for assessing and executing safety measures when a more senior and experienced member of staff is present and should take charge. - Jeffrey Williams, BLM Manchester.

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