The doctor who led the hospital team (above) that treated Ebola nurse Pauline Cafferkey today credited the “amazing” NHS for saving her life.
Dr Michael Jacobs said he felt “absolutely thrilled” and “incredibly proud” to see Ms Cafferkey being discharged from the Royal Free on Saturday after three-and-a-half weeks.
Still “exhausted”, he spoke as 33 of the staff who helped keep the Scottish nurse alive were reunited by the Evening Standard to demonstrate the extent of the care required to treat such a critically ill patient.
He praised their teamwork as an “amazing, amazing example of the NHS”.
Dr Jacobs, 51, a consultant in infectious diseases, admitted there was a stage when he feared Ms Cafferkey 39, who contracted the deadly virus while working as a NHS volunteer in Sierra Leone, might not survive.
She displayed symptoms of Ebola on her return from Africa to Glasgow. She was admitted to the specialist unit at the Royal Free, in Hampstead, on December 30 but four days later her condition became critical.
“We don’t use the term ‘critically ill’ loosely,” he told the Standard. “It’s not something we’re casual about. As long as we were providing the best possible care, we were always hopeful that we could pull Pauline through.
“But there was certainly a period when we were very, very worried by what we were seeing, and very unsure about the outcome.”
Ebola patients typically display symptoms of high fever, become extremely weak and suffer profuse diarrhoea and vomiting.
“Pauline had been extremely unwell,” he said. “It wasn’t until she started being able to do more normal things, such as listening to music on the iPad that had been given to her by the Royal Free charity, that she began to realise that she was through the worst of this.”
He said Ms Cafferkey’s case was “far more complicated” than the Royal Free’s treatment last summer of nurse William Pooley, who also contracted Ebola from volunteering in West Africa.
Like Mr Pooley, Ms Cafferkey may be able to donate her blood plasma to help other victims, though no decision has been taken. Her treatment has been shared with clinicians around the world “to improve care for the next patient”, Dr Jacobs said.
He told how staff at the Royal Free worked like a “hospital within a hospital” to keep her alive.
“If you imagine all the functions that a hospital has to have, not only the doctors and nurses and physiotherapists and pharmacists but estates management and food and facilities and laundry – they all have to be involved, and they all have to be specially trained to be safe to work in that environment,” he said.
“Pride is my overwhelming emotion. I was thinking as we were taking the photograph: how nice it would be to say to all those guys, we’ll have a night out, come along if you want to, because they worked incredibly hard. Without them, it would be nothing.”
But he refuses to allow the Royal Free’s efforts to overshadow from those on the frontline in West Africa who are “putting themselves in the line of fire” in a bid to save others.
“We are a very, very small player in what has been an incredible effort by our colleagues,” he said. “I absolutely salute their courage and dedication in going out there. Right at the end of the spectrum is the Royal Free hospital.
“It’s important for everyone to realise that the Royal Free has always been here to do this – this isn’t new for the Ebola epidemic. We’ve been here since 1976. This is actually, strangely, business as usual for us.”
Name Department Job title
26 Dr Rebecca Lester Infectious diseases Specialist registrar
14 Dr Damien Mack Microbiology Consultant
1 Dr Ruaridh Buchanan Infectious diseases Specialist registrar
2 Dr Simon Warren Infectious diseases Consultant
15 Oliver Carpenter Infectious diseases Nurse clinical practice educator
27 Breda Athanasopoulos Infectious diseases Senior matron lead high level isolation unit
28 Dr Tabitha Mahungu Infectious diseases Specialist registrar
32 Susan Coath Infectious diseases Ward sister
33 Zenaida Pandio Domestic services Housekeeper
30 Claire Harawa Domestic services Domestic team leader
31 Renato Pandio Domestic services Deep cleaner
22 Sheila Connolly Patient environment Head of patient environment
21 Peter Williams Facilities Security manager
25 Marchito Tumibay Domestic services Support worker
20 Michael Campo Facilities Porter
24 Lauren Geddes Physiotherapy Clinical lead cardiorespiratory care
19 Victoria Maddox Laboratory service Senior health care scientist
18 Nikki Williams Infectious diseases Ward sister
29 Dr Sanjay Bhagani Infectious diseases Consultant
17 Sarah Stanley Patient at risk team Nurse consultant
23 Dr Susan Hopkins Infectious diseases and microbiology Consultant
16 Torrain Exall Physiotherapy Clinical lead critical care
3 Dr Stephen Mepham Infectious diseases and microbiology Consultant
4 Dr Michael Jacobs Infectious diseases Consultant
5 Simon Rattenbury Laboratory service Head of laboratory service
6 Bryan O’Farrell Pharmacy Senior Pharmacist
7 Adrien Cooper Estates Director of estates
8 Robert Elliot-Cooke Pharmacy Senior pharmacist
9 Allan Harris Estates Engineering supervisor
10 Sumal Kuranaratne Facilities Support services manager
11 Dave Reavy Facilities Head of security and support services
12 Garba Ibrahim Domestic services Domestic team leader
13 Stephen King Royal Free Charity Head of finance