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Brave Ebola nurse Pauline Cafferkey 'relieved' after being cleared of misconduct

By Hilary Duncanson

Published 15/09/2016

Pauline Cafferkey outside the Nursing and Midwifery Council following a hearing yesterday
Pauline Cafferkey outside the Nursing and Midwifery Council following a hearing yesterday
Pauline in Sierra Leone

A nurse who beat Ebola has been cleared of misconduct over her return to the UK with the virus, saying she would never have knowingly put anyone in danger.

Pauline Cafferkey was accused of allowing an incorrect temperature to be recorded in a "chaotic" screening centre in Heathrow on her return from west Africa in late 2014.

An independent panel at the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) in Edinburgh found three charges against her were not proven and her fitness to practise was not affected.

It ruled her judgment at the airport in December 2014 had been so impaired by the developing illness that she could not be found guilty of misconduct.

Referring to her "exhausted and increasingly unwell" condition after returning from Sierra Leone, it concluded: "In your diminished medical state, you were swept along by events."

Speaking outside the hearing, Ms Cafferkey's lawyer said she was "relieved the process is at an end" and stressed the nurse would have never knowingly placed anyone in danger.

She also criticised Public Health England, which ran the airport screening area described during the hearing as "disorganised and chaotic".

Joyce Cullen said of her client: "She willingly put her life at risk to travel to Sierra Leone to work as a volunteer helping to treat people suffering from Ebola.

"She and hundreds of other volunteers played a vital role in saving lives and helping to curb the epidemic in challenging circumstances."

The solicitor added that Ms Cafferkey - a registered nurse for 18 years - and her fellow volunteers were faced with "chaotic" scenes when they arrived at Heathrow.

"Public Health England were unprepared for the volume of people returning from countries affected by Ebola," she explained. "There were also serious failures in communication amongst the Public Health England staff.

"It is perhaps ironic given the criticisms made of Public Health England's processes that it was their complaint which led to the NMC investigation and these proceedings being initiated against Pauline. No doubt lessons have been learned."

Ms Cullen said the disciplinary process had been "stressful and upsetting" for her client.

"She is delighted that the panel has made the decision she has no case to answer and is now able to continue her nursing career in Scotland," she added.

Following the hearing, Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: "Sending my very best wishes to Pauline Cafferkey. Her bravery is an inspiration to all of us."

The Scottish medical worker (40) became infected with Ebola during a six-week spell working in Sierra Leone towards the end of 2014.

The NMC alleged that Ms Cafferkey, from Cambuslang, South Lanarkshire, allowed an incorrect temperature to be recorded during the screening process at Heathrow on December 28 that year and said she left a screening area without reporting her true temperature.

Sitting at the NMC, independent panel chairman Timothy Cole said it was not disputed Ms Cafferkey was "jet-lagged, exhausted and experiencing the early effects of a significant viral load of Ebola" at the crucial time.

He concluded: "The panel was of the view that in your diminished medical state, you were swept along by events and it was satisfied that in order to make a finding of misconduct, it would be necessary to find a degree of participation which was absent in this case."

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