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.
Ebola nurse Pauline Cafferkey speaks of anguish over NMC case
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.”