Bolam v Friern HMC. 1957;

Burton v Islington Health Authority. 1993;

Chatterton v Gerson. 1981;

Montgomery v Lanarkshire Health Board. 2015;

Paton v British Pregnancy Advisory Service Trustees. 1979;

R v Tait. 1990;

Sidaway v Bethlem Royal Hospital. 1985;

Toombes v Mitchell. 2020;

Toombes v Mitchell. 2021;

The health professional's duty to warn of preconception risks

13 January 2022
Volume 31 · Issue 1


Richard Griffith, Head of Health Law and Ethics in the School of Health and Social Care at Swansea University, looks at the law around negligence for disabilities in a child caused by a failure to warn of preconception risks

The law is clear that a nurse's duty of care includes giving advice and information about the inherent risks of a proposed action and whether any steps can be taken to minimise the risk (Sidaway v Bethlem Royal Hospital [1985]). Failure to warn of material risks that then caused harm would result in an action for negligence (Chatterton v Gerson [1981]).

The law underpinning this duty to warn moved away from the traditional ‘nurse knows best’ approach to a person-centred ‘prudent patient’ approach with the UK Supreme Court decision in Montgomery v Lanarkshire Health Board [2015]. In its judgment, the UK Supreme Court held that nurses and other health professionals could no longer rely on the paternalistic Bolam Test (Bolam v Friern HMC [1957]) as the standard for disclosing information about risks inherent in treatment. The Court found that greater importance was now attached to personal autonomy and, when asking for advice before making a decision that might have an effect on their health and wellbeing, patients were entitled to information about risks and about alternative treatment that might be available.

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