Physiotherapist ordered to complete courses over ‘scaremongering’ claims made during Covid-19 pandemic

A series of misconduct allegations against Anna Marie Stack Rivas over public comments were found proven after fitness-to-practise inquiry

Anna Marie Stack Rivas leaving a Coru fitness-to-practise inquiry in Dublin last year. Photograph: Collins

A HSE physiotherapist who made controversial remarks at public events criticising vaccines, public health guidelines and the use of masks during the Covid-19 pandemic has been ordered by the High Court to take courses on professionalism and ethics.

A fitness-to-practise inquiry earlier this year found a series of allegations of professional misconduct proven against Anna Marie Stack Rivas over controversial and “scaremongering” comments she made in public on three separate occasions over a six-month period in 2020 while identifying herself as a physiotherapist and healthcare worker.

The remarks, outlined to the High Court by JP McDowell, for Coru, the body that regulates health and social care professionals, included Ms Stack Rivas stating it was “absolutely ridiculous” that the health service and Government were pushing people to wear masks when it would make them sick.

Ms Stack Rivas claimed that “after two hours of wearing masks in school, you’re causing your children permanent brain damage”, the court heard.


The physiotherapist also claimed the Covid-19 pandemic was a conspiracy and there were “dangerous ingredients” in Covid-19 vaccines. She argued that health guidelines relating to the pandemic were “either maiming or murdering our children”.

Mr Justice Michael P O’Higgins in the High Court on Monday confirmed the sanctions recommended by the Coru council against Ms Stack Rivas, which include that she take courses on professionalism and ethics within the next 12 months and provide evidence that she has done so. She also has to pay costs.

The judge said the Coru council had “erred on the side of leniency but had set down cogent reasons for the sanction”.

Ms Stack Rivas, who works for the HSE with children with disabilities in Limerick, admitted at the inquiry that she had made the comments at a public event outside the GPO in Dublin on June 29th, 2020, and at another public gathering at an unknown location on December 19th, 2020 and in an online interview.

However, the physiotherapist, who has been registered since 2018, firmly rejected that her comments amounted to professional misconduct and insisted she was expressing honestly held opinions outside of her workplace.

She claimed her views did not affect her ability or capacity to work as a physiotherapist and that she had complied at all times with HSE protocols, including in relation to masks and social distancing while at work.

Announcing the inquiry’s decision to censure Ms Stack Rivas last January, the chairperson of Coru’s fitness-to-practise committee, Georgina Farren, said the findings against the physiotherapist were serious.

“The statements misinformed or risked misinforming her audience regarding the existence and/or the prevention of Covid-19 and constituted scaremongering regarding those issues,” she said.

Apart from showing some limited insight by admitting she had made certain comments, Ms Farren said the physiotherapist had shown little or no remorse for her conduct. Ms Farren said the committee accepted that she was expressing her views outside a physiotherapy context and had been “Covid-19 compliant” in her workplace.

While Ms Farren acknowledged there was great uncertainty and public debate at the time about the Covid-19 pandemic, she said they did not justify Ms Stack Rivas’s comments but did put them in a context.

The committee also accepted the evidence of several work colleagues who described Ms Stack Rivas as a good and conscientious physiotherapist with a blemish-free career prior to the inquiry.