Ebola Medic Attacks 'Blame Culture' As Nurse Suspended

25 November 2016, 17:09 | Updated: 25 November 2016, 17:15

Ebola survivor Pauline Cafferkey has criticised Public Health England's (PHE) ''blame culture'' after a nurse was suspended for concealing the fact that the Scottish medic had a raised temperature before she tested positive for the disease.

Ms Cafferkey said she was ''extremely disappointed'' that nurse Donna Wood had been handed a two-month suspension order and said PHE had ''failed to recognise their own failings''.

The high temperature, noted on December 28 2014, should have triggered concerns that Ms Cafferkey was infected with the deadly virus.

But Ms Wood suggested a lower temperature was recorded on Ms Cafferkey's form so they could pass through the screening process at passport control at Heathrow Airport more quickly, a Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) panel found.

Ms Cafferkey told The Guardian: ''I am very sorry to hear the outcome of Donna Wood's hearing.

''I still feel extremely disappointed that in making complaints against volunteers who willingly put themselves in danger for the benefit of others, Public Health England employed a blame culture and failed to recognise their own failings - which were many - on the day the volunteers arrived at Heathrow.

''I hope that Public Health England will now acknowledge their mistakes and accept that as a result of these, they took the decision to allow me to fly on to Glasgow, rather than transferring me to hospital in London. I look forward to this continuing ordeal eventually being concluded.''

Ms Wood was suspended during a hearing in Stratford, east London, on Friday, after the panel found her fitness to practise had been impaired on public interest grounds.

She had faced the possibility of being struck off as a result of the hearing.

Ms Wood and Ms Cafferkey, who were volunteer nurses returning from Ebola-stricken Sierra Leone, were going through passport control when their group was pulled aside for screening.

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

Ms Wood described the process as ''chaotic'' and said she had been made to wait with hundreds of people in passport control before being taken to a separate crowded area to be checked.

The NMC panel found that Ms Wood was aware Ms Cafferkey's temperature was above the nationally-set threshold, having been measured twice above 38C (101F).

But it said Ms Wood suggested a lower temperature of 37.2C (99F) be recorded on her screening form so the group could leave the ''uncomfortable'' area more quickly.

A temperature above 37.5C (100F) required further assessment by doctors in the PHE screening room.

Ms Cafferkey's high temperature was later reported to another doctor, who recommended she was screened again, but her temperature was lower and she was given the all-clear to travel on to Glasgow.

The following day, the Scottish medic was admitted to hospital, where she was diagnosed with Ebola.

The panel could not prove Ms Wood had written the incorrect temperature on Ms Cafferkey's forms and also ruled that her fitness to practise was not impaired on public protection grounds.

Najrul Khasru, chairman of the panel, said Ms Wood had ''put Ms Cafferkey and anyone coming into contact with her at unwarranted risk of harm'' and told her the misconduct ''could have contributed to the risk of Ebola - a very serious and dangerous illness - spreading into this country''.

But he said: ''While the public interest in this case is high, the panel considers that there was also a public interest in retaining and allowing a highly-skilled and well-regarded nurse to return to practice.''

Mr Khasru said Ms Wood was of ''good character'' and the misconduct was ''a momentary lapse of judgment''.

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 that 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.