Scottish nurse Pauline Cafferkey has been cleared of
professional misconduct by the Nursing and Midwifery Council. At a
two-day hearing in Edinburgh, it was alleged that her fitness to
practise was impaired and that she had placed the public at risk by
failing to report her raised temperature on return to the UK. It is
a case that has garnered much media coverage, as well as heavy
criticism of the NMC and Public Health England.
In the second half of 2014, the Ebola epidemic sweeping across
West Africa gained global attention. Pauline Cafferkey, along with
a number of UK medical and health professionals, volunteered to
work in Sierra Leone to help tackle the disease. She returned to
the UK, via Heathrow, on 28 December 2014.
All passengers returning from high-risk areas had their
temperature taken. Any temperature above 37.5C was considered
elevated and should have been reported. The screening area was
congested and busy. Ms Cafferkey and her colleagues – though
off duty – decided to take their own temperatures in order to
speed up the process.
Ms Cafferkey's temperature was noted as being above the
limit. Despite this, PHE recorded her temperature as 37.2C and she
left the screening area. She was accused of taking paracetamol to
lower her temperature. After leaving the screening area she told
another doctor of her accurate temperature and was sent back.
However, by the time her temperature was taken again, it had
dropped below the limit and she was allowed to fly home.
Upon her return to Glasgow, Ms Cafferkey's symptoms
developed rapidly and she became the first person in the UK to be
diagnosed with Ebola. She spent over a month in isolation at
London's Royal Free Hospital and was twice re-admitted
The NMC alleged that taking paracetamol was a deliberate attempt
to mislead, as was the recording of false temperatures. Ms
Cafferkey was cleared of all charges. The panel found that her
actions could only be explained by her developing illness and state
of exhaustion; she could not be held responsible for putting the
public in danger.
The NMC has a duty to protect the health and wellbeing of the
public as well as ensuring the maintenance of public confidence in
the profession. The charges were raised after a complaint made by
Public Health England.
The NMC Code provides the professional standards that nurses and
midwives must uphold. A nurse has a duty to ensure that public
safety is protected. They must act without delay if they believe
there is a risk to public protection. They must uphold the
reputation of the profession at all times.
Ms Caffereky was travelling home and was not on duty at the
airport. The fact that allegations were brought at all underlines
the higher standards that professionals must display –
regardless of whether they are working. Nurses, just like doctors,
dentists and other professionals, must always meet their
The result for Ms Cafferkey was positive: she has not been
sanctioned by her regulator. However many professionals have fallen
foul of their professional body for their actions or behaviour
whilst off duty. All health professionals would do well to remember
that they must display professional standards and uphold the
reputation of their professions at all times.
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