Doctor who lied about Ebola nurse temperature suspended for one month

Helen Pidd and Nazia Parveen
Dr Hannah Ryan arrives at the tribunal hearing. Photograph: Richard Stonehouse/Getty Images

A volunteer doctor who lied to medical investigators about the dangerously high temperature of the nurse Pauline Cafferkey before she tested positive for Ebola has been suspended for one month.

An independent medical practitioners’ tribunal found Dr Hannah Ryan acted dishonestly and made a “grave mistake” when she decided to lie to investigators about Cafferkey’s temperature in 2014.

It concluded that Ryan’s conduct was a “clear departure” from general medical practitioners’ principles and “fell seriously below” the standards expected.

In a letter to the tribunal Ryan said she regretted her decision and had undertaken training since the incident.

She wrote: ‘‘It can be difficult to take responsibility for one’s failings, and to be open and honest with colleagues about one’s mistakes. Having this experience has given me deeper insight into how to manage my feelings should I make an error in future.

“Clearly, these events were distressing for the staff involved and I regret that my actions contributed to this distress.”

Ryan has 28 days to lodge an appeal against the tribunal’s decision.

She worked as a volunteer with Cafferkey in Sierra Leone during the Ebola outbreak in west Africa, and was one of the medics who assessed the Scottish nurse on her return to the UK.

The tribunal found Ryan did not immediately raise the alarm when a colleague wrote down Cafferkey’s temperature as 1C lower than it actually was during a “chaotic” screening process at Heathrow airport on 28 December 2014, the tribunal in Manchester found.

A high temperature can be the first sign of Ebola, which can kill within five days. Cafferkey, who twice nearly died from the virus, went on to develop one of the worst cases on record for people treated in the west.

The tribunal found that Ryan had acted in a “misleading” manner when she agreed that the form recording the lower, wrong temperature should be submitted to screening staff from Public Health England (PHE) at the airport.

Ryan, who had only just completed her core medical training, had taken Cafferkey’s temperature and knew it was at least 38.2C, higher than the 37.5C considered to be normal.

She had, however, raised “an issue” with another doctor shortly after the wrong temperature reading was given to PHE. As a result, Cafferkey was recalled to the screening area, where her temperature was taken three times over the next half hour. Each reading was between 36.5C and 37.6C. Cafferkey had taken paracetamol, which may have lowered her body temperature, though it is disputed who knew this at the time.

Those measurements, along with Cafferkey’s insistence that she was feeling fine and her keenness to catch a connecting flight to Glasgow, led to her being released from the screening area for the second time. By the next day, she had developed further symptoms of Ebola and was admitted to hospital for urgent treatment.

Ryan’s misconduct came several days later when she lied to a PHE investigator. The tribunal decided that she had been dishonest when, during a conversation with Dr Nick Gent on 2 January 2015, she concealed her role in taking Cafferkey’s temperature. Gent, the deputy head of the emergency response department at PHE, had phoned her during his investigation into when Cafferkey’s symptoms first emerged.

She did not tell him she had taken Cafferkey’s temperature and told him the nurse’s temperature was normal, the panel found.

Ryan is the third medic to to face a tribunal in relation to the incident, including Cafferkey. The nurse was cleared of misconduct last year after experts ruled that her developing illness had compromised her judgment to such a degree that she could not be held responsible for putting the public in danger.

Last November, the nurse Donna Wood was suspended for two months on the grounds that her role in misrecording Cafferkey’s temperature could have contributed to Ebola spreading in the UK.

The panel described Wood’s “dishonesty” as extremely serious but told her it was “not premeditated but a momentary lapse of judgment”.

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