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A shocking disciplinary case


A shocking disciplinary case

An Onlooker's Notebook


I was shocked to read that the nurse who contracted Ebola while working to save lives in West Africa ended up before a nursing disciplinary tribunal. Pauline has endured great suffering as a result of being infected by the virus when helping those in great need, so to be up before the tribunal on a technicality beggars belief. It was suggested that she might have been guilty of professional misconduct by concealing a raised temperature when she got back to Heathrow airport from Sierra Leone.

No-one was infected as a result of her alleged actions, but it seems those responsible for making the referral could not take the common sense view that, while there might be a case in theory, a humane approach would dictate that there should be no case to answer. But, no, they decided that the matter was one for a tribunal to decide. In abstract terms, that might be a reasonable approach.

But that fails to take into account the long period of anxiety imposed on Ms Cafferkey by the period leading up to the tribunal hearing and by the hearing itself – all this on top of her serious illness, from which she nearly died and is still suffering symptoms. This is something underlined by our legal correspondent Richard Hough in his column this month. Writing about disciplinary matters in pharmacy, he says that a fitness-to-practise hearing can be a very traumatising experience.

This is something that those who decide that a case should be referred need to bear in mind. Referrals should only be made when there is a clear case to answer. They should not be made on the basis that, for the most part, cases should be for a tribunal to decide.

As Mr Hough’s article makes clear, the balance in professional disciplinary cases regrettably is towards the latter approach. The facts of the case are presented to the tribunal rather than a case being made for a particular finding, as would happen in a court of law. There is no prosecution as such. The Cafferkey case suggests that the current balance in fitness-to-practise matters might not be quite right.


I was heartened that someone with the name of Mowat was named as the minister responsible for pharmacy in England. Mowat as a surname has its roots in Scotland. I hoped that David Mowat, as that minister, would bring a bit of Scottish common sense to his new-found role. As I write, the signs have been good. The swingeing cuts designed to force pharmacy closures have been put on hold and the minister has taken to visiting pharmacies, even going so far as to have a flu vaccination in one. Now I read that he has been expressing an interest in the Scottish model for developing community pharmacy.

The network of pharmacies north of the border are seen as an asset and one on which a new future of clinical pharmacy and other services should be built. The network in England on the other hand seems to be regarded by the ‘powers that be’ as an overblown liability that should be cut down to size – a costly way of distributing medicines.

The Scottish approach raises the spirits of the profession whereas the English one is utterly demoralising. Here’s hoping that David Mowat opts for the high road. The destination on the low road could be oblivion for the profession and serious damage to the nation’s health.


Having been highly critical of the British Medical Association and its unreasonable backing for junior doctor strikes I am now happy to acknowledge that is has at last seen sense and dropped plans for a series of five-day walk outs over the terms of a new NHS contract. It is doing so in the interest of patient safety, I read. Since putting the interest of patients first is an overriding principle in the medics’ ethical code, the BMA should never have been prepared to sanction strike action in the first place.

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