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The elements of negligence liability in nursing

13 February 2020
Volume 29 · Issue 3


Richard Griffith, Senior Lecturer in Health Law at Swansea University, discusses the circumstances that give rise to a duty of care and the standard expected of nurses in discharging their duty

Liability for carelessness is given its legal expression in the law relating to negligence (Sidaway v Bethlem Royal Hospital [1985]). Compensation paid to settle claims continues to increase year on year in the NHS, with NHS England alone paying some £2.36 billion last year for clinical negligence claims with legal cost running to billions more (NHS Resolution, 2019).

As well as any damages that may be awarded, nurses accused of negligence face having their professional integrity and good name challenged in court and the prospect of further action being taken by their employer and regulatory body. This article considers the elements of a negligence action and how these are applied to nursing.

Negligence is a civil wrong or tort and is best defined as actionable harm (Bolam v Friern HMC [1957]). Negligence has developed in English law under the common law by judges setting rules through decided cases. These cases have established three key elements for a successful negligence action, namely that:

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