Pauline Cafferkey caught the ebola virus volunteering in Sierra Leone
Dr Hannah Ryan took the temperature of the volunteer nurse as they waited to go through ebola virus screening at Heathrow Airport, medical watchdogs heard.
The group had been working in Sierra Leone with other “selfless” UK health workers who had offered to help treat victims of the virus which killed thousands in West Africa in 2014, a Medical Practitioners Tribunal was told.
But, after flying to the UK – “keen” to be back for Christmas – Dr Ryan took Ms Cafferkey’s temperature which was 38.2C – above the 37.5C threshold which is a recognised warning sign for ebola.
Dr Ryan was in a state of “disbelief, fear and panic” at the raised reading but, instead of alerting Public Health England (PHE) medics at Heathrow screening groups returning from West Africa, she recorded a lower temperature of 37.2C – and Ms Cafferkey was eventually allowed to catch her connecting flight to Glasgow and go home.
The nurse fell seriously ill the next day and subsequently tested positive for the ebola virus.
Dr Ryan has admitted misleading others and “acquiesced” in the wrong temperature being given, but denies misconduct through her ac-tions at the airport and during a subsequent investigation by Public Health England.
Fraser Coxhill, representing the General Medical Council, said Dr Ryan and Ms Cafferkey were one group among many British medics who put their own lives at risk by volunteering their medical skills and going to west Africa to help fight the outbreak.
The events appear to demonstrate someone whose first instinct is to mislead
Deployed on November 22, 2014, they were based at an 80-bed treatement centre in Kerry Town in Sierra Leone, orking “tirelessly in dangerous and highly pressurised conditions” during which they “formed a strong bond of friendship”, Mr Coxhill said.
But, around a month later, when they returned to the UK on the afternoon of Sunday, December 28, the ebola screening area at the Heathrow terminal was, “crowded, noisy and chaotic”.
In the queue to get clearance from PHE medics to be allowed to leave, “murmurings of discontent and frustration” grew, the tribunal heard – with worries some Scottish medics would miss connecting flights to Glasgow due to delays in the screening process.
The Ebola Crisis Fri, August 22, 2014
The latest Ebola outbreak is one of the largest and deadliest in history and the first in West Africa. The World Health Organization have declared an international health emergency as more than 1,200 people have already died from the virus in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria this year.
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A burial team from the Liberian Ministry of Health unloads the bodies of Ebola victims onto a funeral pyre at a crematorium
Trying to help PHE staff with the process, they agreed to take and record their own temperatures.
Dr Ryan took Ms Cafferkey’s temperature, which was 38.2C – a potential warning sign for those who had been working with virus sufferers.
The two medics and another nurse with them, Donna Wood, discussed the reading, “during which someone said, ‘Let’s get out of here’,” Mr Coxhill told the tribunal.
Ms Cafferkey was allowed to catch her flight despite showing signs of Ebola
Ms Cafferkey’s temperature was then recorded as 37.2C, the form was passed to PHE staff and the medics went on their way.
However, in baggage reclaim there was further discussion between the medics and PHE staff were contacted. Ms Cafferkey’s temperature was taken again – but was below the threshold.
But by this time she had taken paracetamol, which lowers the body temperature.
Ms Cafferkey was then allowed to go and catch her flight home to Glasgow.
Four days later, Dr Nick Gent from PHE called Dr Ryan to investigate what had happened. Dr Ryan later admitted not telling him she had found Ms Cafferkey’s temperature to be above the threshold.
Mr Coxhill continued: “Whilst there is no doubt that Dr Ryan is a practitioner of hitherto unblemished character who undertook important selfless work in Sierra Leone, it is submitted that the events of December 28, 2014 and January 2, 2015 appear to demonstrate someone whose first instinct is to mislead and be dishonest.”
The tribunal was adjourned until this morning.