R. Bryce-Smith


No law exists which precisely determines the liability of a medical practitioner in respect of his patients. However, the basis of a practitioner's responsibility is that he should "exercise a reasonable degree of skill and care." The principle was first evoked in the case of Lanphier v. Phipos (1838) and it is obvious that in the absence of any more exact requirements, considerable latitude exists. Gradually, various decisions of the courts have limited the field of responsibility, and indicated to some extent what is meant by "reasonable skill and care." With the exception of these modifications, the law has not changed materially for over a century, but at the present time, there is an undoubted increase in the frequency with which actions involving doctors and hospital authorities appear before the courts. The two most obvious factors influencing this tendency are the introduction of the National Health Service in 1948, and the Legal Aid and Advice Act of 1949.