Ebola in UK: Doctor who sat next to Ebola nurse on flight home speaks of shock at diagnosis

Dr Martin Deahl said NHS staff in Sierra Leone felt safe from the virus

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The Independent Online

The colleague of a nurse infected with Ebola while volunteering in Sierra Leone said that he and other medical workers had felt “totally safe”.

Dr Martin Deahl sat next to Pauline Cafferkey, who has been moved from Glasgow to London’s Royal Free Hospital to specialist treatment, on their flight home to Scotland and said he was shocked at her diagnosis.

She was put in isolation early yesterday morning after going to hospital with a fever and everyone on the British Airways flight is being urgently contacted so they can be checked for symptoms.

Ms Cafferkey, a nurse at Blantyre Health Centre in South Lanarkshire, was part of a 30-strong team of medical volunteers deployed to Sierra Leone by the UK Government last month.

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Medical personnel load an isolation bed with a woman diagnosed with Ebola onto a Hercules transport plane on the airport in Glasgow, Scotland

She had been volunteering at with Save the Children at an Ebola treatment centre in Kerry Town, near the capital Freetown.

In a diary about her four weeks in the country’s “red zone” for the Scotsman newspaper, she described how she had to tell a young boy his mother had died from the virus that had killed his father and sister.

“The sad thing is that this is a regular occurrence and we see and hear of whole families being wiped out by this awful disease,” she wrote.

Her colleague Dr Deahl told Sky News the group had 10 days of army training in York, which left them “feeling totally confident and safe”.

There was “a bit of a reunion” between NHS volunteers when they met at Freetown airport for the flight home from Sierra Leone, he said, and “everybody sat next to everybody else” as they shared their experiences.

“I would bet anything that she caught this in the community and not in the treatment centre. We had absolute confidence in the equipment and in our training,” he added.

“I cannot see, if you followed the procedures and the protocols properly, I cannot see any way that someone could be contaminated.”

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A Glasgow patient being treated for Ebola will reportedly be moved to the Royal Free Hospital to their specialist isolation ward in London.

Ms Cafferkey had written how she felt well-protected in the "alien-type suit" of protective clothing, which took 20 minutes to put on each day, joking that they would "certainly be beneficial on a cold winter's night in Scotland".

Dr Deahl said health workers visited Freetown, mixed in the local community and went to church, adding that those times were when they were most at risk, despite a strict “no touch” policy.

Criticising the arrangements for health workers returning from risk countries, he described the arrival at Heathrow as "disorganised".

"I think doing something about the onward journey is the important thing. If there had been alternative arrangements for poor Pauline, an awful lot of people on that flight to Glasgow wouldn't be going through the anxiety and the stress that I am sure they are going through at the moment,” he added.

“Although I should say the risk to them is incredibly small, nevertheless they were exposed to a risk that some of us felt shouldn't have happened.”

Mrs Cafferkey flew back to the UK via Casablanca in Morocco and London Heathrow, arriving at Glasgow Airport at about 11.30pm on Sunday on a British Airways flight.

Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, said the nurse was “doing as well as can be expected in the circumstances”.

At least 63 of 70 people needing to be traced from the flight from Heathrow had either been spoken to directly or had a message left with them, she said.

Two other people who have recently travelled to West Africa are being tested for Ebola in Aberdeen and Cornwall today.

The Scottish patient was another health worker who was not thought to have had any direct contact with people infected with Ebola, and had been staying at a youth hostel in the Highlands and was being transferred to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary for tests.

The Cornish patient has been placed in isolation at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Treliske, Truro.

Ms Cafferkey is the second Briton to test positive and the first to do so on UK soil after nurse William Pooley, 29, contracted Ebola while volunteering in Sierra Leone in August.

Additional reporting by PA

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