Dr Martin Deahl sat next to Pauline Cafferkey on a flight to Heathrow as they returned from five weeks tackling Ebola in Sierra Leone. Mrs Cafferkey, a 39-year-old public health nurse, became ill on her return to Glasgow and was last night receiving specialist treatment at the Royal Free Hospital in north London.
Dr Deahl, who was among a group of 30 NHS volunteers helping with the fight against Ebola, which has so far killed more than 7,800 people, questioned the effectiveness of the screening process at Britain’s largest airport.
“We were identified as having come from Sierra Leone and escorted by a Border Agency officer to a suite of rooms just off that arrivals hall and where we waited to have our so-called health check,” he told Sky News.
“The rooms were very small, the staff were small in number and seemed inadequately prepared, and the thermometers and the kit that we were given to check our own temperatures every day for the next three weeks, they basically ran out so half of us didn’t get that kit. Mine is supposed to be couriered over today. That bit of it did seem disorganised.”
He also questioned Public Health England’s current guidance on Ebola, which allows health workers who have been in direct contact with patients suffering from the virus to use public transport to get home from the airport – but also advises them to avoid crowded places for 21 days afterwards.
In response, PHE defended its safety procedures for returning healthcare workers, pointing out that they were similar to those used by other organisations sending volunteers to fight Ebola. But it added that it would be reviewing the screening system.
“The Scottish patient was on the returning worker scheme and was screened at Heathrow airport on arrival, in line with standard procedures,” it said in a statement. “At this point they were assessed as per protocol and cleared to travel home. This process was overseen by a medical consultant. (read more)