News

Ebola nurse Pauline Cafferkey cleared of misconduct by the NMC

Ms Cafferkey faced allegations that she concealed a high temperature during her health screening on returning to the UK
Pauline Cafferkey

Nurse Pauline Cafferkey can continue to practise after being cleared of misconduct over allegations that she hid symptoms of ebola on her return to the UK from Africa.

A Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) hearing in Edinburgh today found three charges against Ms Cafferkey were not proven so she may continue to practise as a nurse.

Ms Cafferkey had been working as a public health nurse at Blantyre Health Centre outside Glasgow before becoming infected with Ebola while volunteering in west Africa in 2014.

She was among a group of doctors and nurses who returned to Heathrow in December 2014 after a six-week deployment to Sierra Leone.

Allegations

The NMC alleged that she allowed an incorrect temperature to be recorded during the screening process at Heathrow Airport.

It was also claimed that

Nurse Pauline Cafferkey can continue to practise after being cleared of misconduct over allegations that she hid symptoms of ebola on her return to the UK from Africa.


Pauline Cafferkey arriving at the NMC hearing today. Photo: PA

A Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) hearing in Edinburgh today found three charges against Ms Cafferkey were not proven so she may continue to practise as a nurse.

Ms Cafferkey had been working as a public health nurse at Blantyre Health Centre outside Glasgow before becoming infected with Ebola while volunteering in west Africa in 2014.

She was among a group of doctors and nurses who returned to Heathrow in December 2014 after a six-week deployment to Sierra Leone.

Allegations

The NMC alleged that she allowed an incorrect temperature to be recorded during the screening process at Heathrow Airport.

It was also claimed that she left a screening area without reporting her true temperature.

But the NMC panel ruled that Ms Cafferkey, from Cambuslang, South Lanarkshire, had not set out to mislead Public Health England (PHE) screening staff at the airport.

In agreed evidence put before the panel, it was said the PHE screening staff ‘were not properly prepared to receive so many travellers from at-risk countries’, and this resulted in the area being described as ‘busy, disorganised and even chaotic’.

Temperature check

The two-day hearing was told that a doctor took Ms Cafferkey's temperature and found it to be up to 38.3C (100F). 

NMC representative Anu Thompson told the panel: ‘Dr One says that registrant A (someone else in the group) stated at this point that she would record the temperature as 37.2 degrees on Ms Cafferkey’s screening form and then they would “get out of here and sort it out”’.

The panel also heard that Ms Cafferkey recalled the words ‘let’s get out of here’ being used but not who said it and she did not remember who entered the lower temperature on her form.

She admitted taking paracetamol after she realised she had an elevated temperature.

The nurse was eventually cleared for onward travel, arrived in Glasgow late in the evening and awoke feeling ‘very unwell’ the following day, when she was diagnosed with Ebola.

Impaired judgement

The panel heard that the early symptoms would have impaired her judgement and an allegation she had acted dishonestly at Heathrow was dropped on Tuesday.

In submissions on Tuesday, the NMC said Ms Cafferkey ‘potentially put the public at risk' through her actions and that her conduct had ‘undermined’ public trust and confidence in the nursing profession.

Ms Thompson did not dispute Ms Cafferkey had been acting for the public good in providing humanitarian assistance in Sierra Leone.

Ms Thompson said there were significant mitigating circumstances in Ms Cafferkey’s case but told the panel: ‘The fact that she was suffering from the early onset of the virus cannot absolve her of all responsibility for her conduct, nor can it remove her understanding or knowledge of the disease.’

Describing the potential risk as ‘significant’, she asked the panel to make a finding that the nurse’s fitness to practise is impaired ‘to protect the public and protect the public interest’.

Legal threshold

The nurse’s legal team pointed to her ‘previously unblemished record’ and insisted the legal threshold for a finding of misconduct against her had not been met.

Representing Ms Cafferkey, Joyce Cullen said her client had been exhausted after completing a 22-hour journey to London.

She was ‘very likely to be substantially impaired’ as a result of exhaustion and the early effects of the Ebola virus, the panel was told.

After being diagnosed with Ebola in December 2014, Ms Cafferkey spent almost a month being treated in an isolation unit at London’s Royal Free Hospital.

She went on to have two further admissions to hospital – one with a relapse of the Ebola virus and the other with chronic meningitis.

Panel chair Timothy Cole said: ‘It was inconceivable that she would leave the safe environment of the PHE screening area but for the fact that she was already seriously ill.

‘The panel therefore concluded that her judgement had already been significantly impaired involuntarily.’

Relief at conclusion

Speaking outside the hearing, Ms Cafferkey’s lawyer said the nurse was ‘relieved the process is at an end’ and that Ms Cafferkey would never knowingly place anyone in danger.

Commenting on the outcome, NMC chief executive Jackie Smith said: ‘The NMC has an overarching duty to protect the health and well-being of the public, and it needs to ensure the maintenance of public confidence in the profession.

‘The referral from Public Health England showed a highly unusual set of circumstances that clearly required a thorough and proper investigation. In circumstances like this, it is right for an independent panel to hear all the evidence to decide if any action is required.’

Sign up to continue reading for FREE

OR

Subscribe for unlimited access

Enjoy 1 month's access for £1 and get:

  • Full access to nursing standard.com and the Nursing Standard app
  • Monthly digital edition
  • RCNi Portfolio and interactive CPD quizzes
  • RCNi Learning with 200+ evidence-based modules
  • 10 articles a month from any other RCNi journal

This article is not available as part of an institutional subscription. Why is this?

Jobs