Doctor Admits to Misleading Authorities in Ebola Case

Doctor Admits to Misleading Authorities in Ebola Case

Panic spread across Europe in early 2015 when Pauline Cafferky became the first person outside of West Africa contracted Ebola, amid fears of the disease spreading. Doctor Hannah Ryan admitted Monday to a disciplinary panel that she helped Cafferkey pass airport health security checks in 2014 by recording a lower body temperature than was actually taken [1]. The hearing is being held in Manchester, UK following Ms. Cafferkey’s clearance of misconduct in September.

Both Ryan and Cafferkey, a nurse, had joined a group of British physicians traveling to Sierra Leone to treat those affected by the Ebola crisis [2]. They formed a strong bond of friendship during that period, as they worked “tirelessly in dangerous and high pressurised conditions” [2].They traveled back to London on December 28, during a rush of holiday traffic.

Ryan described the Heathrow airport checks as “crowded, noisy, and chaotic” [2], and told the disciplinary hearing that in order to help with the process, she and others in the group were allowed to take and record their own temperatures. Ryan took Cafferkey’s temperature in the presence of two other physicians, and found a reading of 38.2° C (100.8° F), which she found alarming and caused her to enter a state of “disbelief, fear, and panic” [3]. A high temperature is one of the first symptoms of Ebola, and indicates that the person is in a contagious stage of the disease [1].

Ryan told the tribunal that tensions among those in the airport were rising, as interruptions to flights and security checks continued to delay travel times. When she read Cafferky’s raised temperature, she panicked, telling the tribunal that “Ebola is such a horrible disease that every time you have a high temperature you worry, even when you know there’s no reason to” [2]. Unsure what to do, another doctor suggested that they record a lower temperature so that they could “get out of here and sort it out” [2]. After asking Cafferky if “she was feeling OK”, which she said she was, Ryan recorded a temperature of 37.2° C (98.9° F) [2].

According to allegations made by the General Medical Council, Ryan not only failed to alert airport authorities of the situation, but also later denied any abnormal temperature readings when questioned as part of an investigation into Cafferky’s illness [2].

Less than a day after returning to the UK, Cafferky became seriously ill with the Ebola virus, and remained in critical condition for nearly a month. Her illness was well publicized, raising concerns all across Europe about the possibility of the disease spreading.

Though willing to admit a lapse in judgment, Ryan has denied medical misconduct. Fraser Coxhill, a representative of the Global Medical Council, stated at the hearing that “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 28 December 2014 and 2 January 2015 appear to demonstrate someone whose first instinct is to mislead and be dishonest” [2]. The tribunal awaits further hearing until later this week.

References:

[1] Halliday, Josh. “Doctor admits misleading medics over Pauline Cafferkey temperature.” The Guardian, 20 March 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/20/doctor-dishonestly-hid-pauline-cafferkeys-high-temperature-ebola

[2] “Doctor hid temperature of nurse who caught Ebola as medics wanted to get home for Christmas, tribunal hears.” The Telegraph, 20 March 2017, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/03/20/doctor-hid-temperature-nurse-caught-ebola-medics-wanted-get/.

[3] “Doctor admits misleading over Ebola.” BBC, 20 March 2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/health-39327426.

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