The Courage of Pauline Cafferkey

Posted by The Skibbereen Eagle | September 15, 2016 0

There is no one who exemplifies more the courage of those in Medicine who make sacrifices for others than the brave Scottish nurse Pauline Cafferkey.

Having unselfishly volunteered to go to Sierra Leone in 2014 to help treat victims of the Ebola Epidemic she caught the disease in field conditions and has twice been brought back from death’s door by dedicated medical staff at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, London.  She has suffered permanent health effects and trauma from her bravery in helping others and saving lives. Amazingly she then faced disciplinary charges from desk bound bureaucrats at the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) based on a complaint from Public Health England (PHE). During the hearing it turned out both organisations have been seriously incompetent and the charges against Pauline Cafferkey who had literally put her life on the line were discreditable and should never have been brought.

In this photo taken Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, health workers, center rear, screen people for the deadly Ebola virus before entering the Kenema Government Hospital in Kenema, 300 kilometers, (186 miles) from the capital city of Freetown, Sierra Leone. Over the decades, Ebola cases have been confirmed in 10 African countries, including Congo where the disease was first reported in 1976. But until this year, Ebola had never come to West Africa. (AP Photo/ Michael Duff)

The Scots nurse who survived Ebola has been cleared of misconduct charges by the Nursing and Midwifery Council. Pauline Cafferkey, 40, was infected while working in Sierra Leone in 2014. She faced charges for allegedly allowing a wrong temperature to be recorded during the screening process at Heathrow on her arrival in the UK. The conduct and competence panel dismissed the charges after hearing she had been impaired by illness. Another charge of dishonesty was withdrawn.

Pauline Cafferkey has come out of her misconduct hearing with a clean bill of health – but the same can’t be said for any of the other parties involved. The Nursing and Midwifery Council had lodged a series of charges against her, including that she had been “dishonest”, but was forced to reconsider after medical evidence came to light.


This saw the group’s lawyer actually arguing against her own charges, in a bid to have mention of dishonesty scrapped. In fact she made such a convincing case that the remaining, watered-down charges were never likely to win over the panel. And if the NMC looked bad, it was even worse for Public Health England – ironically, given they raised the original complaint against Ms Cafferkey.

The hearing was told of “chaotic” scenes at PHE’s Heathrow screening centre, with patients being told to administer their own tests. There were constant miscommunications between doctors, including one who left messages at the wrong hospital. In the end, many present at the hearing were puzzled as to why it was Ms Cafferkey who was under the microscope and not one of several others who appear to have let her down.

The decision to clear Ms Cafferkey was based on an agreed narrative of facts which had been presented to the panel on Tuesday. These characterised the screening area at Heathrow airport as “busy, disorganised and even chaotic” when Ms Cafferkey and other medics arrived back from Sierra Leone. They showed that the nurse’s temperature was recorded twice by a doctor, in the presence of another person referred to as “registrant A”, at more than 38C. ebola-graphic

The doctor claimed that “registrant A” stated that she would record the temperature as 37.2C on Ms Cafferkey’s screening form and then they would ‘get out of there and sort it out'”.  Cafferkey recalled the words “let’s get out of here” being used but could not remember who said it or who entered the incorrect temperature on her screening form. She spent almost a month in isolation at the Royal Free hospital in London at the beginning of 2015 after the virus was detected when she arrived back in the UK.

Ms Cafferkey was later discharged after apparently making a full recovery, and in March 2015 returned to work as a public health nurse at Blantyre Health Centre in South Lanarkshire.  In October last year it was discovered that Ebola was still present in her body, with health officials later confirming she had been diagnosed with meningitis caused by the virus. However, in the months that followed, her health suffered as she had issues with her thyroid, her hair fell out and she had headaches and pains in her joints. ebolaebola4

It now seems as if the case against Pauline Cafferkey had fallen apart before the hearing even began – raising questions as to why she had to go through it in the first place. It is not good enough that the disgraceful treatment of Pauline Cafferkey is swept under the carpet. Duncan Selbie, CEO of Public Health England and NMC Chief Executive and Registrar, Jackie Smith should make a full personal apology to Pauline Cafferkey without reservation and delay and pay her compensation for her unjust treatment. If they fail to do so they should be sacked without delay.

Pauline Cafferkey’s bravery and selflessness upholding the highest ideals of the Medical Profession deserves far more respect than the jobs worth’s  of the NMC and PHE have shown.

The Skibbereen Eagle

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