NURSE Pauline Cafferkey is an inspiring woman. Seeing a use for her skills, she volunteered to travel to Sierra Leone to help fight the spread of Ebola.
That Ms Cafferkey contracted the virus while trying to prevent it infecting others is an unbearably cruel irony and we can only hope that she recovers and that those closest to her find the strength to get through these difficult times.
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People like Ms Cafferkey – people who help others without care for reward or recognition – are the best of us. Around the world, British volunteers have changed lives. They are among our greatest ambassadors.
And they deserve the very best support we can give them. Early indications raise serious suggestions that this was not the case with Ms Cafferkey.
Dr Martin Deahl, a colleague of the nurse who travelled back to the UK with her at the weekend said yesterday that screening procedures on arrival at Heathrow were “shambolic” and “chaotic”.
Clearly, something went wrong for Ms Cafferkey’s illness not to have been detected when she and her colleague arrived from West Africa. A direct consequence was that more than 70 unsuspecting passengers and crew on Ms Cafferkey’s subsequent flight from London to Glasgow were put in a very risky situation, indeed.
Scotland does not currently have an Ebola treatment centre but we should not require one if screening of those arriving from West Africa to the United Kingdom is properly carried out.
Nobody, however, has been affected by the failure of the screening process more than Ms Cafferkey. She knew the risks she was taking when she volunteered for this dangerous work but she should surely have been able to expect high standards of the screening process.
If the system had worked, then her condition would have been identified earlier and treatment could have commenced. Whether this delay has any lasting significance, we do not yet know, but medical advice is that the earlier the condition is detected, the better the chance of making a recovery.
Those brave volunteers helping with this international crisis must have the confidence that the support they need is in place. How, if they cannot feel confident that their safety is paramount, can we expect them to continue to make the sacrifices they do?
The UK’s aid team of which Ms Cafferkey was part was just a month into its mission – a mission which will take a very long time to complete – but already we have identified a positive case with the potential to let Ebola get into the UK.
In light of Ms Cafferkey’s case, there must, obviously, be a full review of screening procedures at Heathrow. Until we can be satisfied that the system is working properly, there is a very strong case for considering the temporary suspension of aid trips to West Africa.
Referendum has achieved so much
IT was a year when Scotland barely paused for breath, when the country was energised like never before.
The independence referendum on 18 September left its mark on every single day of 2014. The future of the United Kingdom – and how Scots had the power to inexorably change it – dominated our national debate.
And, in the aftermath of the No campaign’s victory, the decision taken by Scots has continued to send shockwaves.
We always knew that a win for Yes would change Scotland – and the UK – forever. Now, we know that a No vote has had its own transformative effect, with the Scottish Parliament soon to have greater powers.
As well being the catalyst for a more muscular Holyrood, victory for the No campaign has had the most extraordinary impact on the SNP, which has seen its membership soar from less than 30,000 to 100,000.
Alex Salmond’s successor as First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, now leads a party the size of which is unheard of in modern Scottish politics.
But while she may celebrate this success, it also serves as an illustration of quite how starkly Scotland became divided, down political lines, this year. In the end, the referendum was a great example of a vibrant democracy in action. Many are still disappointed by the result but every Scot can take pride in the way the contest was conducted.
And we can take pride, too, in successes such as the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup, which threw the international spotlight on Scotland when our constitutional debate wasn’t making headlines around the world.
Without question, 2014 was a year like no other in Scotland. Its repercussions will be felt for generations.
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