A senior Health Service Executive (HSE) doctor has resigned just days after criticising "draconian" anti-Covid-19 restrictions.
Dr Martin Feeley's views that coronavirus is "much less severe" than the flu for most people and that restrictions were no longer justified caused a furore after they were reported in The Irish Times last weekend.
The HSE actively dissociated itself from his remarks and rejected his suggestion that young people should be allowed to get the virus to develop herd immunity.
Dr Feeley (70) stepped down from his post as clinical director of Dublin Midlands Hospital Group on Tuesday with immediate effect.
After his public comments, he came under heavy pressure from HSE management, who told him his position was untenable.
A doctor for more than 45 years and an employee of the health service for 30 years, Dr Feeley says he stands by his comments, but decided to resign so management in his hospital group would not be penalised.
He had argued that people at low risk from the virus should be exposed to it so they can develop herd immunity and reduce the risk to vulnerable groups.
“Experience has taught us that at-risk and vulnerable individuals are identifiable with remarkable accuracy; and protective measures, hygiene, masks, social distancing and cocooning are effective.”
Deploring the financial cost and impact on quality of life of the pandemic, he claimed some media coverage “borders on hysteria” and said the impact of obesity on outcomes was heavily under-estimated.
As clinical director in his hospital group, Dr Feeley was centrally involved in efforts to improve clinical services in Portlaoise hospital, which had been criticised in a number of reports on the deaths of babies at its maternity unit.
However, efforts to reconfigure services in the region were stymied by political opposition to any changes that would affect the hospital.
Responding to his remarks last Saturday, the HSE stressed the large number of cases and deaths worldwide and their potential to overwhelm health systems.
"According to the WHO, the threshold for establishing herd immunity is not yet clear. Neither is the duration of post-infection immunity known," HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said.
The estimated death rate for Covid-19 is 10 times that of seasonal flu, four leading TCD scientists pointed out, adding that herd immunity would cause “substantially more” sickness and death from the virus in the Irish population.
“It would also be virtually impossible to protect vulnerable people, since a large proportion, as many as one in three, of the Irish population are in a high-risk group,” they stated, in a letter to this newspaper.