‘It hit the complete wrong tone’: Noelle Healy on Varadkar’s holiday comments

Dublin ladies’ footballer on her medical career and looking ahead to 2019 season

Noelle Healy is not unique in being an amateur Gaelic footballer who also found herself working over Christmas.

A few minutes in her company and you also realise she’s no more or no less dedicated to her Dublin career than she is her medical profession at Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown, where she works in the Intensive Care Unit as an anaesthesiologist (the now agreed term).

Just don’t start her talking (again) about the recent suggestion by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that all doctors and nurses should avoid taking any annual leave over Christmas and the New Year, due to chronic staff shortages. In a tweet on Christmas Eve, Healy wrote that she’d just completed “three 24 hour shifts in 6 days and 2 in the last three. It cool if I take a day or two off to celebrate Christmas with my fam @campaignforleo?” with the hashtag #ImAtWorkLeo.

As much as the doctors and nurses don't want to be there, the patients absolutely don't want to be there

“I think everybody took a bit of an affront to it,” she says of Varadkar’s suggestion to the medical profession. “When you work in the hospital, you see how hard everybody works, selflessly giving up time and hours, staying back, covering shifts, and generally you do get very little thanks for the job you do.


“None of us go into it to get thanks, we go into it because we’re generally caring people, like to help people, but I suppose, from your leader, to not get any recognition, and in fact to be told you need to work harder, and spend less time with your family, it just probably hit the wrong note.

“And you could see when the social media campaign that went around that, especially with GPs as well, who are having a bit of a tough time at the moment, the health service gets as much attention as it does, and people are working so hard to keep it up and running, and then to get a comment like that, especially in front line services like GPs, who are trying to keep people out of hospital as much as they can. I just think it hit the complete wrong tone.”

‘Morale is brilliant’

For Healy, a three-time All-Ireland winner with Dublin, four-time All Star, and 2017 women’s footballer of the year, balancing her football career with her medical profession is difficult enough without being told she may not be working hard enough already: not that she’s looking for any special treatment or sympathy, even when it came to working those long shifts over Christmas.

“Absolutely not, I think people are proud to say they’re in and helping out over Christmas. Obviously when everyone looks at the rota you get a sense of relief if you’re not on, but it you’re on you accept you have to do some Christmas, try to share it around, and people with young children you try to get them out as much as you can.

“And there are an awful lot of non-Christian people who work in the hospital, and in fairness take as much of the Christmas holiday as they can, to allow us celebrate our time and our family.

“But it is a very busy time of the year, because people tend to come in very sick, because they’re been trying to avoid hospital as much as they can, so it’s an awful lot of stress on them as well.

Last year, for us, was more a monumental year

“But morale is brilliant, you see a lot of people with tinsel ear rings, and there’s a lot of chocolate around, and even we went in with the cup to Crumlin hospital on Christmas Day, and there were a lot of visitors, a good atmosphere, because as much as the doctors and nurses don’t want to be there, the patients absolutely don’t want to be there, and even coming up to the lead, there’s always that question, will I get out for Christmas, and you heart always sinks a little if you’re the bearer of bad news, that you might be, or your father or mother might not even make it to Christmas.

“So you just have to accept that’s part of the job, to keep things positive, but it’s an unbelievable sector to work in, I just can’t over how hard everybody works, and yet still seems to have a smile of the face for the next patient who comes in, despite what’s happening beforehand.”

16-24 hour shifts

Speaking at the launch of the new marketing consultancy firm Future Proof Media, Healy said she chose anaesthesiology partly because it is a little more structured than some other medical professions: “Being in the theatre, at the ICU department, the hours are more regulated, you start at 8, finish at 5, which is not too bad. And they you just have to try coordinate your call around that.

“You do at least one 16 or 24 call in the mid-week, and if you’re working weekend, Friday to Sunday, it’s generally 16 hours, in 24 hours, or just a Saturday. So you just have to plan around that, which takes a lot of calendar looking, shift swapping.

“People are generally quite good with shift swapping. It just means you have to keep everyone on good terms.”

Looking ahead to the 2019, with a national league title to defend, before any mention of a third successive All-Ireland, Healy reckons in some way the pressure is off: “Last year, for us, was more a monumental year. It was the first time that we’d ever won the League. And it was the first time we had to defend and successfully defend our All-Ireland title.

“So history and pressure doesn’t really come into it. If anything it will drive us on a little bit. We know at the moment that this is such a special group of players.”

In more ways than one.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics