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Pauline Cafferkey cleared of all misconduct charges in NMC case

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Pauline Cafferkey, the nurse who survived ebola, has been found not guilty of professional misconduct following the conclusion of a fitness to practise hearing today.

The virus had affected Ms Cafferkey’s ability to alert health officials to her symptom of a high temperature when she returned to the UK in 2014 and so her actions did not amount to misconduct, the hearing panel said.

In response to allegations by the Nursing and Midwifery Council, Ms Cafferkey did admit to allowing a wrong temperature to be recorded when she arrived back at London’s Heathrow Airport after working as a volunteer in Africa during the height of the virus outbreak.

She also admitted she went on to leave a Public Health England screening area at the airport without flagging up her elevated temperature.

”The panel therefore concluded that her judgement had already been significantly impaired involuntarily”

NMC misconduct panel chair

However, she was cleared of misconduct because the panel concluded her actions were the result of illness and exhaustion.

Ms Cafferkey was also initially accused of being dishonest. But in light of extra medical evidence presented as part of the hearing, the NMC agreed to drop the charge because there was no case to answer.

The panel heard Ms Cafferkey’s temperature was taken twice by a doctor in the airport’s screening area, which was described as “busy, disorganised and even chaotic”, and found to be 38.2 and 38.3 degrees - higher than 37.5 degrees, the point at which further assessment is required.

Her two temperature scores were read out to her and another registrant, who was not named during the hearing. However, it ended up being recorded on Ms Cafferkey’s screening form as 37.2 degrees – within the normal range – and she was allowed to leave.

The doctor said the other registrant stated at the time she would record 37.2 degrees on the form and they would “get out of here and sort it out”. But Ms Cafferkey said she recalled the words “let’s get out of here” being used but could not remember who said it or who entered the temperature on her screening form.

Nursing and Midwifery Council

Ebola nurse Pauline Cafferkey speaks of anguish over NMC case

Pauline Cafferkey

The panel also heard Ms Cafferkey had taken paracetamol at some point because she realised she had a temperature.

Although it was only when she had made her way to the airport’s arrivals area that doctors realised she was at risk after she told them she had taken paracetemol and had a temperature. She was described by a doctor at this point as “acting extremely vague”.

However, during her final assessment at the airport by another doctor Ms Cafferkey was not asked if she had taken a paracetemol and she also did not volunteer this information. By that point her temperature, which was taken again another three times, only read above 37.5 degrees on one occasion and so the doctor cleared her for onward travel.

The panel concluded Ms Cafferkey’s actions could only be explained by her developing illness and state of exhaustion.

“It is inconceivable that she would leave the safe environment of the PHE screening area but for the fact that she was already seriously ill,” said the panel chair.

“The panel therefore concluded that her judgement had already been significantly impaired involuntarily,” they added.

NMC chief executive Jackie Smith said it was right this “highly unusual set of circumstances” had been thoroughly investigated.

“As the independent panel recognised, the NMC has an overarching duty to protect the health and wellbeing of the public and needs to ensure the maintenance of public confidence in the profession,” she said.

“The referral from PHE 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.”

  • 20 Comments

Readers' comments (20)

  • A disgrace that the NMC even entertained this investigation towards a person who had given her services so vastly to people in need. Shame on NMC and using 'public interest' is farcical!

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  • What a waste of fee payers money! This should not of reached to this level at all. I think the NMC has taken leave of their senses.

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  • When is the NMC going to be reined in. Any nurse who is found to have nothing to answer should have automatic compensation for 9 months of duress and the referring organisation or individual should foot the bill for the whole process. There are no checks and balances to protect nurses from malicious complaint. Further, why are complaints presented as charges. Are us nurses automatically regarded as criminals?

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  • For the first time n my life I'm with the NMC! She had a very heavy viral load when she was tested,she felt ill and by all accounts was pyrexial and you're telling me she didn't know she was infectious? Of course she knew! NMC cocked up big time on this one.

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  • What was the point of screening for high temperatures if they ignored them putting herself, the public and the nurses who looked after her at risk ? Shocking behaviour by all involved.

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  • What stands out for me is that Pauline Cafferkey was going to lose her registration if found guilty, that all her previous good record stood for nothing, and that her one very serious error of judgement that could have had very serious consequences but thankfully didn’t, would cost her her career. There is no apparent awareness of mitigating circumstances – in this case, a long journey after a long shift and many long shifts. We cannot have any idea what life had been like for any of these nurses working in such dangerous and difficult circumstances. And remember that she went back to a doctor to self report.
    That can be replicated many times for others reported to the NMC by malfunctioning trusts especially against whistleblowers. And of course, as usual, the NMC’s chief executive, Jackie Smith defended the NMC’s deplorable behaviour.
    I very much like Richard Stone’s suggestion that the referring organisation or individual should foot the bill for the whole process as well as pay compensation to the victim of this workplace abuse.
    Julie Fagan, founder member of CAUSE – Campaign Against Unnecessary Suspensions and Exclusions UK

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  • So what action is being taken regarding the "other registrant" who reportedly was the one who actually recorded the wrong temperature? Why did the doctor who took the temperatures not record them correctly and make sure Pauline was assessed further? If I am ever a patient, I will have to check all my notes carefully in case I'm blamed for someone else making an error in my records - I am at a loss to understand why the "patient", who was actually ill at the time, as evidenced by the pyrexia, was responsible for the actions of the monitoring team.

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  • It's not clear from this article who made the intial complaint.
    Why was the person taking the temperature not the person who entrered it into the record? For that matter why wasn't the accurate pyrexia electronically recorded; automatically alerting those in control, who needed to know, there and then, that here was a red flag situation with a returner?

    Why wasn't everyone returning, from working with Ebola made (mandatorily) to stay, in a set aside comfortable hotel, all found, for 24 hours; paid for by our Foreign Aid budget?

    If Pauline didn't deliberately avoid detection (which I believe is the case, after all, realistically, which Nurse would vote definitely to die and infect thousands in the process, by travelling away from the only folk likely to be available to help?).

    Someone mucked up; and sometimes its easiest to blame those least able to answer.back, rather than explore failures of process, (which might bring others to account). It would not be the first time that when something bad happened, a Nurse was "hung out to dry" in order to cover up systemic problems.

    People have varying motives for volunteering, but somewhere in that mix of reasons is a desire truly to make a difference. Pauline deserves our congratulation not brickbats. Also, as she has now been cleared of deliberate wrong -doing by our NMC, it would be good if Public Health England found out, what actually went wrong; and, in preparation for the next time, what they will be doing to improve their "return to the UK via London" processes.

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  • 'Make NMC Accountable' That is the only way nurses can have their fees used for the benefit of nursing & not by the NMC making up ridiculous charges against nurses

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  • michael stone

    ANONYMOUS 14 SEPTEMBER, 2016 9:21 PM

    Yes, it immediately struck me as very peculiar, that the press were reporting that she was responsible for 'allowing an inaccurate temperature to be recorded'. She might have been responsible for not disclosing things - for example, that she was taking paracetamol - but surely she isn't responsible for measuring/recording her temperature.

    I'm sure - I've just made this point in the earlier thread - that I heard Ms Smith (NMC) explaining on BBC Radio 4 that the NMC itself is, to use my wording, 'less than entirely happy with the regulations covering its investigations, and would like to see the rules changed to allow investigations to take a different form'. But the NMC cannot alter those regulations, which it has to follow.

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