Ireland's prime minister to work as doctor during coronavirus epidemic

Sean Gallup/Getty Images(DUBLIN) — Ireland’s prime minister Leo Varadkar will be returning to medical practice to work as a doctor for one session a week to help out during the coronavirus epidemic, his office has said.

Varadkar, a former doctor, has re-joined Ireland’s medical registry and offered his services to Ireland’s Health Service Executive, a spokesman for the office of the prime minister, called the Taoiseach, confirmed to ABC News on Monday.

Varadkar studied medicine and worked as a junior doctor in Dublin hospitals for several years, before qualifying as a general practitioner in 2010. He left medicine to become a full-time politician and had his name removed from the medical registry in 2013.

His office did not provide further details on what medical work he would be doing but The Irish Times reported it understood that Varadkar would be helping assess suspected COVID-19 patients over the phone. People who believe they may have been exposed to COVID-19 are advised to call their doctors to receive an initial assessment rather than going in person in order to prevent the risk of infecting others.

“Dr Varadkar rejoined the Medical Register last month. He has offered his services to the HSE for one session a week in areas that are within his scope of practice. Many of his family and friends are working in the health service. He wanted to help out even in a small way,” the Taoiseach’s office said in a statement.

Ireland’s health service last month appealed for former healthcare professionals to register to be available during the epidemic, which is expected to put a huge strain on the country’s hospitals. In three days, 50,000 people responded to the call, according to the national broadcaster RTE.ie

Varadkar is the son of a doctor and a nurse, and his partner, Matthew Barrett, as well as his two sisters and their husbands, also work in the health services.

Ireland’s current count of recorded COVID-19 cases stands at 4,443, according to statistics from its department of health. Of those, 1,203 have been hospitalized.

The government last week reached an agreement to effectively take over parts of 19 private hospitals for three months during the epidemic, making beds and other facilities there only for public use.

Varadkar currently leads a caretaker government following a seismic general election in February that saw his party Fine Gael and the other traditional party of power, Fianna Fáil, beaten by the nationalist party Sinn Féin, the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army.

Varadkar resigned following the election after Ireland’s parliament failed to elect a Taoiseach but he has stayed on because the parties have so far been unable to agree on a coalition government and the pandemic has disrupted those negotiations. Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has demanded that her party has a right to form a “change government” with other left-wing parties. This week she accused Fine Gael and Fianna Fail of trying to keep Sinn Féin out of power while co-opting its policies.

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