HSE sacks doctor for saying Coronavirus “less severe” than the flu

The headline in other newspapers is that he resigned, of course, but even their coverage has to tell you what really happened, down in about paragraph five:

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.

“Your position is untenable” is, of course, universal code for “resign now, or be sacked”.

He was given the boot, and there’s no two ways about it.

Why? What did he say? Here he is, the thought criminal, in full flight:

Dr Feeley says that while the initial measures taken by the Government were “totally acceptable and justifiable”, this is no longer the case, given what we now know about the disease.

Covid-19 is “profoundly different” from the Spanish flu pandemic of a century ago, he maintains, saying that that was “an indiscriminate killer” that largely targeted the young.

“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.”

Dr Feeley notes that virus-related deaths among people aged under 65 who do not have underlying conditions are uncommon, and transmission by children while possible is also uncommon.

The presence of a “chronic illness” is the “all-important factor” in determining a person’s Covid-19 risk, he points out. “you can identify with amazing accuracy who is at risk, as with no other disease.”

“The best-kept secret regarding Covid-19 is the vulnerability of individuals who are overweight,” he asserts.

Is that really a resigning matter? We keep hearing that there’s a medical consensus around Coronavirus, but it’s easy to have a medical consensus when you sack all the doctors who disagree with it, isn’t it?

And is anything he says there untrue? It’s patently obvious that Coronavirus, while not an illness a sane person would wish to contract, is no Spanish flu, or bubonic plague. The vast majority who contract it recover, and recover well. The people most at risk are the old, the sick, and – as Dr. Feeley points out – the overweight.

Why is it a resigning matter for a HSE doctor to question HSE policy?

What if the policy is wrong? Isn’t it good that people are questioning it?

The problem in Ireland, as ever, is that there is no room for debate. There is one acceptable position on Coronavirus, just as there is one acceptable position on Brexit, one acceptable position on Trump, one acceptable position on abortion and gay marriage, and so on, and so forth. Stick your head above the parapet to disagree, and you risk career destruction.

This is, of course, a symptom of a deeply unhealthy society, and a political and cultural establishment that is deeply insecure when it comes to opposition.

The facts are, though, that Dr. Feeley is objectively right. For many – if not most – people, Coronavirus is less severe than the flu. We’re always hearing about asymptomatic cases, after all. How many times do you hear about someone having an asymptomatic case of the flu? They do happen, but in general, for the average person, the flu seems to be more of an imposition.

And in these circumstances, isn’t it perfectly fair to ask whether these restrictions make sense? The Government’s utterly disastrous outing yesterday didn’t inspire much confidence in them to begin with, and it seems to be utterly verboten to ask whether the restrictions make sense to begin with.

And now we have the spectacle of a doctor being given the boot for the crime of offering a considered, fact-based, medical opinion. What’s going on?

Dr. Feeley has been treated appallingly here. As have the rest of us.

The public are grown up enough to listen to medical doctors disagreeing about the right course of action, and to hear points of view from all sides.

The HSE’s actions here are contemptible.


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