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Ebola 'hero' nurse accused of misconduct over Pauline Cafferkey temperature

Published 14/11/2016

Nurse Pauline Cafferkey, who was infected with the Ebola virus while working in Sierra Leone, was cleared of allowing the incorrect temperature to be recorded
Nurse Pauline Cafferkey, who was infected with the Ebola virus while working in Sierra Leone, was cleared of allowing the incorrect temperature to be recorded

A nurse who helped fight Ebola faces being struck off after being accused of recording an inaccurate temperature on an airport screening form for a medic who had contracted the virus.

Donna Wood had returned to the UK from Sierra Leone along with Pauline Cafferkey, who survived the deadly disease, on December 28 2014, and the pair's group were caught up in the "chaotic" screening process at Heathrow Airport, a misconduct hearing heard.

Wood appeared before an independent panel at the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) in Stratford, east London, facing three misconduct charges, including recording the reading dishonestly in order to hide it from public health officials.

She is accused of writing down a temperature of 37.2C after a doctor, Hannah Ryan, had taken Ms Cafferkey's temperature twice, with readings of 38.2C and 38.3C.

A temperature above 37.5C required further assessment by doctors at the Public Health England (PHE) screening room, the NMC's Aja Hall said.

Delays in the screening process at Heathrow, which were the result of PHE staff being "not properly prepared" to handle the volume of at-risk visitors, meant Wood's group had begun taking their own temperatures, Ms Hall said.

Dr Ryan had taken Ms Cafferkey's temperature and found it to be elevated.

Reading the medic's statement, she said: "It was just me, Pauline Cafferkey and Donna Wood present.

"I took her temperature in her left ear - it was 38.2C. I showed it to Pauline, the thermometer.

"I told her to stay calm, we were both a bit panicky.

"Donna was recording the temperatures on the form.

"I took it again in the right ear - it was 38.3C. I asked Pauline if she was feeling OK, she said she was OK."

Dr Ryan then goes on to say "I stood there in shock, it was like I was paralysed. I had no clear thought process.

"Ebola is such a horrible disease, every time you have a high temperature you worry, even though you know there's no need."

Ms Hall claimed Wood suggested the reading was "artificial", after Ms Cafferkey told Wood she felt "warm" on the plane, which was attributed to the fact that the Scottish nurse had been sleeping in a hoodie during the flight.

Ms Hall continued: "Donna Wood broke the inertia by saying 'I'm just just going to write it down as 37.2C and then we will get out of here and sort it out'."

At some point at around 5pm Ms Cafferkey took paracetamol before she left the screening area, Ms Hall said.

After the group left the screening room and made it to the arrivals hall, Dr Ryan reported Ms Cafferkey's high temperature to another doctor, who recommended the Scottish medic return to be screened again.

Ms Hall said Ms Cafferkey's temperature was then checked again three times by a PHE consultant and was found to be a maximum of 37.6C, meaning she was given the all-clear to travel on to Glasgow.

The following day, Ms Cafferkey became "extremely ill" and was admitted to hospital, where she was diagnosed with Ebola.

Wood made no admissions to any of the allegations at Monday's hearing.

At the time Wood was a senior sister at Haywood Hospital in Staffordshire and was one of the first group of NHS medics to travel to West Africa.

She featured in the Department for International Development's promotional campaign, when she was hailed as a "hero" by then international development secretary Justine Greening.

While in Sierra Leone, where the disease killed almost 4,000 people, Wood worked for Save the Children.

Ms Cafferkey was cleared at an earlier hearing in September of allowing the incorrect temperature to be recorded.

An NMC panel found three charges against her proven by admission but said 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.

Dr Ryan said she had been contacted by Nick Gent, a consultant in health protection, to give her account of what happened.

She said she spoke to other members of the group, including Wood, before she had a full interview with Dr Gent.

Dr Ryan said: "I rang her because I was concerned the information I was giving him could get us into trouble and I wanted her to know what was said."

During the call, Wood told her "honesty is the best policy", she said.

Dr Ryan said she called Dr Gent again after a "long, rambling" conversation to give him information about Ms Cafferkey's temperature being misrecorded.

She said: "I had not told him everything that happened in that first phone call. I did not volunteer that information. I knew that what we had done was not right."

Prompted to say what she was referring to, she added: "We allowed a wrong, incorrect record of Pauline's temperature to be made when she was initially screened."

Ben Rich, defending Wood, questioned Dr Ryan's memory of the events in the screening room, after she said she could not remember whether she had said Ms Cafferkey's temperature out loud to Wood or had shown her the thermometer.

She denied Mr Rich's suggestion that she had been intending to collude with Ms Cafferkey on their evidence when they emailed their statements to each other.

He said: "The truth is that exchange of statement was inappropriate."

She replied: "I did not fully realise that at the time. We are simply exchanging what we remember of the events. I regret it and I see that it's problematic. You can see from the statements that they are not the same. I did not do it with any intent to collude or contaminate anyone's evidence."

Mr Rich suggested her memory of the events was "highly flawed".

He said: "I'm going to suggest this whole situation was a confusing situation and that your memories have become confused."

Dr Ryan replied: "I clearly don't have a perfect memory of these events. The details about Pauline's temperature I remember clearly."

Dr Ryan told the hearing she faces a Medical Practitioners' Tribunal Service hearing next March following an investigation by the General Medical Council, which regulates doctors.

The hearing continues on Tuesday when evidence will be heard from doctors including Dr Gent.

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