The nurse who was found to have concealed her colleague Pauline Cafferkey’s raised temperature before she tested positive for Ebola in 2014 has been suspended from practising for two months.
An independent Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) panel had found that Donna Wood was a low risk to future patients but that her fitness to practise had been impaired and a sanction was in the public interest.
Najrul Khasru, the chair of the panel, told Wood that an aggravating factor was that: “The seriousness of your misconduct … could have contributed to the risk of Ebola, a very serious and dangerous illness, spreading in this country.”
The panel described Wood’s “dishonesty” as extremely serious but told her it was “not premeditated, but a momentary lapse of judgment”.
Khasru said her misconduct had been an “isolated incident in an otherwise unblemished nursing career … and unlikely to be repeated”.
The sanctions were imposed after an eight-day hearing in Stratford, east London, after Public Health England, which was running the screening process in Heathrow, reported her for allegedly falsifying a document recording Cafferkey’s temperature as one degree lower than it was.
Wood was returning from Sierra Leone, where she and Cafferkey had volunteered to work in an Ebola treatment centre at the peak of the epidemic in December 2014.
The panel found that Wood had not actually misrecorded Cafferkey’s temperature on a health screening form, but said she had known it was elevated and had not escalated this despite knowing that a high temperature was a potential early warning sign for Ebola.
In not doing so, she had “put Ms Cafferkey and anyone coming into contact with her at at unwarranted risk of harm”, Khasru said.
In considering what sanctions to impose, Khasru said the panel took into account the stress and exhaustion of the nurses, who had been working up until the day they left Sierra Leone.
It concluded that striking Wood off would be have been disproportionate, and it was in the public interest to retain a highly skilled nurse. Wood works as an end-of-life nurse in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent.
Among the mitigating factors were Wood’s previous good record and her “selfless act” to volunteer to help Ebola patients in Sierra Leone.
The panel also noted the “less-than-ideal environment in the screening area” at Heathrow airport when the passengers returned from west Africa on 28 December 2014.
Khasru noted that Wood had worked as a nurse for two years since the incident without any concerns raised during this period or throughout her 29-year career.
But the panel said her behaviour warranted a suspension in order to uphold the public’s confidence in the profession.
“The panel was mindful of its duty to protect the public interest. This includes the protection of patients and others, maintenance of public confidence in the profession and the regulatory body,” Khasru said.
It emerged during the hearing that the group of five volunteers including Cafferkey and Wood had decided to take their own temperatures in order to get out of the “uncomfortable” and “chaotic” screening area more quickly.
Cafferkey and her colleagues were cleared to go through to the baggage area but Cafferkey later returned to the screening area after a doctor in their volunteer group raised concerns.
She was subsequently given the go-ahead to take her connecting flight to Glasgow, but the senior clinician on the team was not aware she had taken paracetamol, which can mask a high temperature.