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Dr Augustine Pereira reflects on COVID-19 within Public Health

Dr Augustine Pereira

Dr Augustine Pereira

Dr Augustine Pereira, Director of Public Health, HSE North East,  reflecting on his COVID-19 experience recently explained how “the Public Health role changed overnight in unimaginable ways - from a service largely unknown, to a service at the forefront of the pandemic response in Ireland. From a service that had the odd out of hours calls in a week to a service where the OOH doctors phone didn’t stop ringing. I remember the sleepless nights at the start of the pandemic and starkly remember taking the on call phone off a colleague who hadn’t slept a wink the previous night. What kept us going was the team support to each other.”

Speaking about his own role he explained: “It changed in many ways during this time too. As Director of Public Health I scaled up the team in Cork and Kerry to respond to pandemic within weeks working with UCC PH team, health promotion and many HSE community based colleagues. From March 2020, I moved to some national roles -  initially with the contact management programme, then Public Health lead for test and trace working with all the eight departments of Public Health and latterly clinical lead for HSE Live, within the communications division of the HSE.”

Outlining how he managed to get through the more challenging aspects of COVID-19, Dr Pereira pointed to his team: 

“I saw such dedication, commitment and selfless service from my team, one which I am truly honoured to be leading. One phrase that rings in my ear is ‘would you want me to cover this weekend?’ So many times this was repeated. They say when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Every so often, I have witnessed this to be the case in North East. It felt like there was nothing that could knock us down, wave after wave, we grew stronger.

“Since we scaled up the team to nearly four times the size since I joined North East or rather nearly ten times when compared to core capacity pre COVID-19, we didn’t have office space. Many of our redeployed staff came from across the country, so we quickly adopted a remote working approach. We’ve mastered the art of being effective in our role working from home.”

Reflecting on the personal impact, Dr Pereira noted that pre COVID-19 he used to “travel every fortnight to my wife and son in England. The toughest part was being unable to see my young son grow up due to the travel restrictions and to explain why I couldn’t be there for him. My wife bore the brunt of the caring responsibilities juggling her clinical duties as a doctor on the frontline.”

With the lifting of restrictions Dr Pereira concludes that he is happy to now be able to visit his family frequently: “I am able to visit them every half term as in the past and finally also notes that he is enjoying again seeing the “smiles on the faces of my unmasked colleagues.”

Dr Pereira’s reflections feature in the latest edition of Health Matters.