Guardian News and Media/Edinburgh
Pauline Cafferkey has been cleared of professional misconduct by a panel at the Nursing and Midwifery Council in Edinburgh following an investigation into her return to the UK after contracting the Ebola virus.
The panel ruled that Cafferkey’s judgment had been so compromised by her developing illness that she could not be held responsible for putting the public in danger, concluding: “In your diminished medical state you were swept along by events.”
Describing Cafferkey as an experienced nurse, the panel concluded she would not have acted against her training unless her judgment had been seriously impaired.
“There was no evidence that you set out to mislead Public Health England by allowing an incorrect temperature to be recorded,” the ruling said.
Clearing Cafferkey of all charges, the chair of the panel acknowledged that it had been a distressing process and wished her a full recovery and every success for the future.
Cafferkey, who was infected with the devastating disease while working as a volunteer in west Africa in 2014, had faced sanctions including being struck off.
During the two-day hearing, the NMC submitted that following Cafferkey’s return to the UK from Sierra Leone at the end of December 2014, she allowed an incorrect temperature to be recorded by Public Health England’s screening facility at Heathrow airport and that, realising she had an elevated temperature, an initial symptom of Ebola, she left the screening area without reporting this to a member of staff.
But Cafferkey’s representative argued that an isolated incident of poor judgment brought about by extreme exhaustion and the early stages of Ebola infection should not be allowed to blight the nurse’s otherwise impeccable professional record.
Cafferkey was exhausted by her journey back to the UK and was suffering from the early symptoms of Ebola.
On Tuesday, the panel struck out a charge that Cafferkey had acted dishonestly after hearing expert evidence suggesting her “ability to make decisions and reason properly” had been severely compromised by the time she reached the UK.
A submission from a medical expert, a Dr Thomson, said: “I have no doubt that a combination of early Ebola virus infection and fatigue resulting from a busy nightshift followed by a lengthy journey (from Sierra Leone) would have impaired Pauline’s judgment at the time of entering the screening process at Heathrow airport.”
The panel also heard about serious deficiencies in the way that Public Health England managed their Heathrow screening facility.
Cafferkey came close to death twice – the first time after being diagnosed in Scotland. She was flown to London to be treated in a special tented Ebola isolation unit at the Royal Free hospital.
Last October she developed meningitis as a result of the Ebola virus and was transferred once again to the Royal Free, where her condition became critical for a time before she eventually recovered
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