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Doctor ‘misled medics over Ebola nurse Pauline Cafferkey’

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A doctor who admitted misleading other medics over Ebola nurse Pauline Cafferkey also acted dishonestly, medical watchdogs in England ruled today. Dr Hannah Ryan took the temperature of Scottish nurse Ms Cafferkey as they waited to go through Ebola virus screening at Heathrow Airport, medical watchdogs heard.

It revealed the nurse had a high temperature of 38.2 centigrade – a warning sign for Ebola, the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service was told. But instead of raising the alarm, a lower temperature of 37.2 centigrade was recorded on a screening form, and Ms Cafferkey was allowed to travel home to Scotland. She fell ill with Ebola the next day.

Dr Ryan admitted misleading other medics when she “acquiesced” with the lower temperature being recorded on the form. But the medic, who qualified from Liverpool University in 2009, denies her practise as a doctor is impaired by misconduct through her actions.

Today the tribunal ruled she not merely acquiesced but had “implicitly agreed” to the form with the wrong temperature being submitted to Ebola screening staff at the airport. The tribunal also ruled Dr Ryan acted dishonestly when dealing with a risk assessment investigation into the incident by a consultant from Public Health England (PHE) days later.

Dr Ryan and Ms Cafferkey were part of a “selfless” group of UK medics who volunteered for dangerous and highly pressurised work in “horrendous” conditions helping fight the Ebola outbreak in west Africa that left tens of thousands dead.

When they got back to the UK on December 28, 2014 after two months away they were “keen” to get back home to loved ones at Christmas time. But the screening process by PHE medics at Heathrow Airport to ensure no one brought the virus back to the UK was “shambolic” with queues building up in the “crowded, noisy and chaotic” quarantined area, the hearing was told.

Trying to help PHE staff with the process, they agreed to take and record their own temperatures with the help of another nurse Donna Wood. Dr Ryan took Ms Cafferkey’s temperature which was 38.2C – a warning sign for the Ebola virus, leaving her in a state of “disbelief, fear and panic.”

As the three medics considered the high temperature result, one of them said, ‘Let’s get out of here’ and Ms Cafferkey’s temperature was then recorded as 37.2C, the form was passed to PHE staff and the medics went on their way. Ms Cafferkey returned to Glasgow but the next day fell seriously ill and tested positive for Ebola.

In a telephone call from consultant Dr Nick Gent from PHE on January 2, the tribunal found Dr Ryan concealed her involvement in taking Ms Cafferkey’s temperature and telling him that it was “normal” when it was in fact above 37.5 centigrade.

The tribunal found such were the stressful conditions her judgment at Heathrow Airport may have been understandably clouded – but not days later, and her conduct in regard to Dr Gent was dishonest.

The three-person tribunal has now adjourned and will tomorrow consider whether Dr Ryan’s fitness to practise is impaired by her misconduct. She could face a warning, have conditions placed on her practise or be struck-off.

Donna Wood was last year suspended for two months after a Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) panel found she was the one who had suggested putting the lower temperature on the form.

Ms Cafferkey was cleared of allowing the incorrect temperature to be recorded, as her judgment at the airport had been so impaired by the developing illness that she could not be found guilty of misconduct, the NMC ruled.

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