‘My heart is broken in two’: Irish healthcare workers abroad respond to Ireland’s call

‘I want to come back and help in the coronavirus crisis, but how do I get home?’

The number of coronavirus cases and deaths are increasing in Ireland and globally. In preparation for the expected surge in demand for care, the Government said it would recuit everyone available with qualifications for roles in the health service during the crisis. Since the On Call for Ireland appeal last week, about 50,000 people have registered their interest.

We asked Irish healthcare workers living abroad if they would consider moving home to help with the Covid-19 crisis. Here are a selection of the responses:

Suzanne Greaney, Toronto, Canada: ‘I want to come home to help during crisis but I face the uncertainty of a flight’

I moved to Toronto in summer 2019 for a temporary career break after working almost six years as a nurse. After listening to Minister for Health Simon Harris and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar this week, I made the decision to come home to help. I signed up for the "on call for your country" initiative with the Health Service Executive (HSE) on Wednesday, March 18th. However, I now face the uncertainty of a flight actually getting me home. I spent two hours on hold to Air Canada on Friday morning who told me flights to Dublin are cancelled for the foreseeable future, and I can't get through to Aer Lingus, understandably due to the volume of calls they are currently experiencing.

As I have been informed to have been in close contact with a confirmed case of Covid-19, I’m in self-isolation until Wednesday, March 26th and by this time I have no idea if I’ll still be able to fly in to Dublin.


I’m currently still employed in Toronto in my office job here, but it’s uncertain for how much longer with temporary lay-offs being announced almost daily. A flight home is about $1,000, and if this flight doesn’t go next week, I’ll be credited by the airline.

Given the uncertainty with my job here, paying $1,000 to maybe get a flight home is too risky as we all know the difference a day makes at the moment. If the flight doesn’t go next week I’m down $1,000 and potentially stuck in Toronto, temporarily unemployed. If the Government could guarantee flights home for health workers wouldn’t be cancelled, I would book it now and be on the front line after two weeks quarantine on arrival to Ireland. I’m going day by day at the minute, but I don’t know what will happen by next Wednesday, March 26th if Ireland does go into complete lock down in the coming days.

Cora Monaghan, Stuttgart, Germany: ‘Is there any plan to help people like me who want to help but cannot get there?’

I’m willing to come and join the save Ireland team. As a registered nurse with a speciality in critical care nursing, and a degree in nursing, my skill set, education and experience are exactly what is necessary for this situation. However, the calls for volunteers makes no mention of how I could get there. My understanding is that I cannot simply take a flight plus I will need somewhere to stay while I am working. Is there any plan in place or being considered to utilise people like me who want to help but cannot get there?

Doctor, Perth, Australia: ‘My heart is broken in two: one half desperately wants to come to Ireland, the other knows I’m needed here’

As an Irish doctor living in Australia, I feel lucky to have two countries that I can call home. However, currently I feel like my heart is broken in two - one half that desperately wants to come back to Ireland to help all of my colleagues on the frontline and to be on the same soil as my family, the other half that knows that I’m needed where I am to help fight off the inevitable tsunami of cases that is about to hit Australia, my home for the last four years.

No healthcare system in the world has dealt with the likes of this before, and all will struggle to cope with the demands. Seeing the measures that the Irish Government have taken, the solidarity that each community is displaying, and the trojan work that our frontline staff are doing, has made me immensely proud to be Irish. From the supermarket and pharmacies who are run off their feet to meet demands, to the teachers who are offering their expertise online to children who are now home from school, the small businesses who are dropping food to the hospital staff and adapting to have contactless delivery, people collecting medications and groceries for elderly neighbours - everyone is pulling together at a time of crisis.

Thank you to the doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, paramedics, catering staff, cleaners and other frontline staff. They will be the ones to look after my family and friends when I cannot, while I work half a world away to care for other people’s loved ones. Ar Scath a chéile a mhaireann na daoine - In the shadow of each other, we live. Stay at home, flatten the curve, and most importantly be kind.

Roisín Murray, Perth, Australia: ‘It doesn’t look like I’ll be able to get home any time soon’

I’m an Irish nurse and I have been living in Australia for six years. I’d planned to return home this June/July with my husband, who is an electrician, to live in Wexford. I would love to be able to come home to help during this crisis. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to get home any time soon as there seems to be very few flights and all at very inflated prices. I’m qualified nine years and currently working as a clinical nurse specialist in gastroenterology in the Royal Perth Hospital.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to leave here soon so that I can come home to help with whatever I can. Wishing the very best of luck to all of our wonderful healthcare workers back home. I’m very proud of how our country is dealing with this crisis and how our government is showing great leadership. Ní neart go cur le chéile.

Physiotherapist, London, UK: ‘I work with many who would rather be at home right now with their family in Ireland’

I graduated from Trinity College Dublin in 2011 as a physiotherapist, and that year only one person from my class got a permanent contact in St James's Hospital. The rest of us were forced to take temporary jobs, study further or emigrate. I moved to New York and worked there for four years and then to London, where I've been for two years. More than anything I would love to move home, but have been unable to due to the way the hiring system used by the HSE and the lack of permanent and senior positions in the Irish system.

I work in a busy London hospital where there are so many Irish physical therapists, occupational therapist, nurses and doctors who would rather be at home right now with their family, helping the Irish system out during this difficult time. As much as I would consider coming home during this time it would mean giving up my permanent job and life in London, which I could not afford to do.

While therapists are not as much on the front line as nurses and doctors, it amazing to see everyone getting stuck in and trying to play their part. I’m hugely proud of the Irish effort to overcome this virus and protect as many people as possible. I hope some day in the future the systems will be in place to not only retain our graduates in the first place, but to make it easy for their return with their experience from abroad.

Gavin Walsh: ‘I’m available as soon as my self-isolation period is over’

I’m intending to come home soon as my flights for next week are cancelled. I would be ready and available as soon as my self-isolation period is over.

Nurse, Perth: ‘I’m moving home next week and will work during this pandemic’

I’m a registered nurse in Ireland, but have been living in Perth for 18 months. I’m not working as a nurse here (I work as an assistant in nursing) and I’m due to go home in six months, but I’m moving this forward to next week to be at home and work during this pandemic.

Nurse, Florida, USA: ‘I would be willing to return to Ireland to work in healthcare’

I am a registered nurse here in the USA and I would be willing to return to Ireland to work in healthcare during this crisis. I am originally from Ireland and would therefore not require a work visa.

Patrick Cronin: ‘Healthcare workers from abroad have hurdles to overcome before being eligible’

It's not a simple process. Healthcare workers from abroad have hurdles to overcome and delays before being eligible to take up these much needed roles. I'm a healthcare worker (Medical Laboratory Scientist) that returned to Ireland last year. Today I signed up on the HSE website to be called on if needed and discovered that you are only eligible if you are registered by the appropriate Irish professional regulatory body - CORU, the Health and Social Care Professionals Council, in my case. I completed my sign up on the website and then went to the CORU website to fill out their application for registry. My Irish qualification and US degree with a 30 plus year work history is not alone sufficient.

Along with the online application is a list of supporting documents that are required, you are required to submit the following by post within 30 days of completing the online process. This means that I will have to show the original documents. They must include their stamp on the copies to indicate they have been certified. If the certifier does not possess an official seal or stamp, then they must provide a signature and full name and address in block capitals. It is unlikely I will be able to get my documents notarised, the US criminal clearance or even two current passport photos given current global events. I do plan to complete the online CORU application today.

Ryan Kavanagh, Dubai, UAE: ‘I’m veterinary nurse though that’s not to say we can’t be of help’

I’ve been working in Dubai for almost three years. I’m actually a veterinary nurse, and not a human healthcare professional, though that’s not to say we can’t be of help. I regularly place IV catheters, and take blood samples (in much smaller veins than people) as well using ventilators in animal patients and isolating infectious diseases. While not exactly ideal, veterinary staff have a lot of transferable skills and medical knowledge that may be of benefit and required should the pandemic continue to escalate. If the situation arose, I’d happily help where possible.

Healthcare worker, Saudi Arabia: ‘I couldn’t get a job in Ireland and against my will had to emigrate’

I wouldn't return to a healthcare job in Ireland. I qualified in 1984 and couldn't get a job in Ireland and against my will had to emigrate. I've been abroad since working in Iraq, Australia and now Saudi Arabia. We are frontline staff dealing with the Covid-19 in Saudi Arabia and I'm proud to be part of the workforce here. The government are very proactive and the disaster preparedness plan in place. Staff safety is put first and all healthcare workers doing direct patient care have had N-95 Fit Testing and PPE training, which is the first line of defence for staff protection during this crisis. Every citizen receives daily updates on their mobile phone from the ministry of health regarding safety and prevention tips. The conditions and salaries that nurses are expected to work in Ireland are a disgrace. I'm currently working in an environment where I feel respected.