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NMC panel told to disregard dishonesty claim against Ebola nurse Pauline Cafferkey

Nursing and Midwifery Council panel examines claims about Ebola nurse Pauline Cafferkey’s airport health screening.
Pauline Cafferkey

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) panel hearing misconduct charges against Ebola nurse Pauline Cafferkey has been advised to discount allegations she acted dishonestly.

The public health nurse was infected with the virus while volunteering in Sierra Leone during the Ebola epidemic in December 2014.

Ms Cafferkey, from Cambuslang near Glasgow, has been accused of allowing a lower body temperature to be recorded during health checks on her arrival at Heathrow from West Africa, and of not declaring she had taken paracetamol.

An NMC hearing, which began today, is examining the allegations.

Reject dishonesty claim

NMC representative Anu Thompson urged the panel to strike out any allegation that Ms Cafferkey had acted dishonestly, because at the time she was in the early phases of an extremely serious virus.

The dishonesty test has not been met as her actions were not actuated by dishonesty, Ms Thompson

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) panel hearing misconduct charges against Ebola nurse Pauline Cafferkey has been advised to discount allegations she acted dishonestly.

The public health nurse was infected with the virus while volunteering in Sierra Leone during the Ebola epidemic in December 2014.

Ms Cafferkey, from Cambuslang near Glasgow, has been accused of allowing a lower body temperature to be recorded during health checks on her arrival at Heathrow from West Africa, and of not declaring she had taken paracetamol.

An NMC hearing, which began today, is examining the allegations.

‘Reject dishonesty claim’

NMC representative Anu Thompson urged the panel to strike out any allegation that Ms Cafferkey had acted dishonestly, because at the time she was in the early phases of an ‘extremely serious virus’.

‘The dishonesty test has not been met as her actions were not actuated by dishonesty’, Ms Thompson said.

‘It’s clear that a medical expert in this field suggests Ms Cafferkey’s ability to make decisions and reason properly were affected at the relevant time.’

Screening was ‘chaotic’

It was stated that Ms Cafferkey was among a group of nurses and doctors returning to Heathrow after a six-week deployment to Sierra Leone in 2014.

But the hearing heard that screening staff from Public Health England at the airport were not properly prepared to receive so many travellers from at-risk countries. This resulted in the situation being ‘busy, disorganised and even chaotic’, said Ms Thompson.

Elevated temperature

The hearing was told a doctor took Ms Cafferkey's temperature and found it to be 38.2˚C, then 38.3˚C.

Ms Thompson told the hearing: ‘Dr 1 says that Registrant A (someone else in the group) stated at this point that she would record the temperature as 37.2˚ on Ms Cafferkey’s screening form and then they would “get out of here and sort it out”.’

Ms Cafferkey recalls the words ‘let’s get out of here’ but could not remember who said it or who entered the temperature of 37.2˚ on the form, Ms Thompson said. 

The nurse accepts she knew her temperature was 38.2˚ and then 38.3˚ while she was in the screening room, Ms Thompson added. Ms Thompson said it is agreed a temperature above 37.5˚C requires further assessment and should be reported to a consultant. 

Cleared to go home

The panel heard that, at some point after realising she had an elevated temperature, Ms Cafferkey took paracetamol.

She left the screening area but later returned to it, and – with a temperature reading of around 37.5˚C – she was cleared for onward travel by another doctor.

Ms Cafferkey arrived in Glasgow late in the evening and awoke the following day feeling ‘very unwell’. She was then diagnosed with Ebola virus.

Ms Cafferkey had been working as a public health nurse at Blantyre Health Centre outside Glasgow before travelling to Sierra Leone at the height of the Ebola epidemic to work with stricken communities there.

Recurring illness

She spent almost a month at the Royal Free Hospital in London after being diagnosed with the virus. She recovered but was re-admitted to hospital on two occasions after experiencing complications and, at one stage, was critically ill.

The hearing was told she is receiving psychological support because of a prolonged period in an isolation tent, having had a life-threatening illness and the effect of media attention.

Uncertain prognosis

A report from a Glasgow-based doctor stated: ‘Pauline’s prognosis is uncertain. She is the only patient ever to have developed a reactivation of the Ebola virus infection 10 months after the initial illness.’

The hearing continues.

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