Just a few minutes into the interview at his sanitised surgery in Adare, Co Limerick, Dr Pat Morrissey breaks down.
Last Monday, he was removed by the board of Shannondoc – the midwest’s out-of-hours GP service – after he sharply criticised the National Public Health Emergency Team’s (Nphet) restrictions at a Covid-19 protest rally in Dublin held last weekend.
The 46-year-old doctor tells The Irish Times he is worried that speaking out could get him in further trouble. “I am a bit scared, yes, but I still think I’m doing the right thing.”
During Saturday's rally, he said he had prescribed anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to "high-risk patients that got sick with Covid" in defiance of Health Service Executive (HSE) regulations.
The HSE said later: “Hydroxychloroquine is not used as a treatment for Covid-19. It has been removed from clinical recommendations due to evidence indicating a lack of benefit in patients hospitalised with Covid-19.”
However, Dr Morrissey says the HSE is being "disingenuous", claiming that there is "good evidence" from trials in France, South Korea and China that it helps, if used early and together with other drugs.
It has no positive effect in Covid patients who are seriously ill in intensive care, he acknowledges.
“I discussed it with my patients. If I had a patient with significant risk factors, such as old age, heart disease, diabetes, overweight, and if they were sick with Covid, I would say to them this treatment is there, it’s not licensed for Covid, and it’s been used in other countries, and if you are happy to take it then I am happy to prescribe it for you.”
“Everyone of them were very grateful, and I’ve had patients come back since to thank me,” he says, becoming emotional again.
He has treated more than 50 patients with Covid-19, prescribing six with hydroxychloroquine, saying he was “impressed by the speed” of patients’ response. One patient in their 80s died, but this person was not given the drug because they had too many underlying conditions.
Critical of Nphet, he argues that it is fuelling fear.
“The metric should be ICU admissions and deaths. They say cases are going to go up and up, they’ve been saying that since July. Yes, we are going to see a slight rise in number of cases and deaths, but that happens every winter.
"Every day 80 people die in Ireland, and, on average, about one or two a day are dying from Covid. The average age of those dying [WITH COVID]is 84 and the average life expectancy in Ireland is 82."
Morrissey says it may be hard to hear, but “it does matter who is dying”, adding, “I’m not a granny killer and I don’t want to be portrayed as such. My own mother is 88, and she is not afraid of Covid.”
Every day, he says, he is seeing patients whose mental health has been badly damaged by the pandemic. Some have had suicidal thoughts, such is their level of despondency.
“The fear is doing more harm to people’s health than Covid itself. The mortality risk is being overplayed.”
Patients are presenting at the clinic with suicidal thoughts, because they are panicked because they “want to scream every time they see another person wearing a mask because they feel trapped by the prolonged restrictions and the face mask is a physical reminder of the virus, which is silent.”
Meanwhile, local businesses in Adare struggle.
“The economy is a proxy for health as well. In a village like this, that is dependent on the hospitality industry, or the main street in any small town in Ireland, they’re suffering. You can’t quantify it, but it’s real.”
In his surgery, he wears a mask, but more, he says, to put patients at their ease. He insists that there is no evidence to suggest that they make much difference. He qualifies that he is anti-mask only in “low-risk situations” such as the streets, and shopping centres.
“I’m not nonchalant, this is upsetting for me, I know people who have died. I’m a big-picture person, and it’s not good to just use our individual experiences to determine how society should be run,” he says.
“I do acknowledge there have been tragedies, family tragedies in relation to Covid, and that’s been very sad, and that’s part of the reason why we have reacted in such a way to Covid, and I believe we are overreacting.
“I just want discussion. Can we not discuss how we are dealing with this societal-wide problem? Other countries are doing things in different ways.”