Irish scientists answer the call for help amid Covid-19 crisis

20 Mar 2020


As the HSE calls for healthcare professionals from all disciplines, Irish scientists are already looking to add their skills to the mix.

On Tuesday (17 March), the Health Service Executive (HSE) began a major recruitment drive to answer the rapidly increasing need for healthcare workers and those in other disciplines that could help during the Covid-19 outbreak.

At the time of writing, the ‘Be on call for Ireland’ campaign had received more than 40,000 expressions of interest from healthcare professionals of all disciplines.

After seeing this call, neuroscientist Dr James Reynolds set up Irish Scientists on Call in a bid to highlight opportunities where scientists could offer their expertise.

“My impression is that many scientists would like to help but are still unsure where best to direct their interest,” he said.

“As far as I know, the HSE has not yet issued a specific call for lab scientists but I am aware that they are in ongoing talks with various universities.”

Reynolds has just returned to Ireland from University College London. “I’m on remote work and self-isolating, so this is very much a volunteer effort,” he said.

The Irish Scientists on Call website says: “While institutes of education are winding down activities, the HSE is ramping up its efforts in contact tracing and SARS-CoV-2 testing. Those with expertise in research administration and laboratory techniques may be needed.

“Though we are not directly affiliated with the HSE or any HE institution in Ireland, we would ask that scientists in Ireland consider offering their help.”

Reynolds set up the site along with Dr Karen Coughlan, Dr Gary Brennan, Dr Danielle Gallagher and Dr James O’Connor. There is a mix of volunteer opportunities and positions for hire on the website, which adds that “many universities and institutions will accommodate volunteer secondments from staff during this crisis”.

Opportunities to help

One post on the site is looking for GMIT science graduates and those with research or healthcare experience from IT Sligo to take part in contact tracing.

The site also includes a call for doctors, nurses, engineers and designers to join the Open Source Ventilator project to help develop low-cost ventilators. Colin Keogh, one of the brains behind the Open Source Ventilator project, spoke to earlier this week, saying the team has been “blown away by the support” it has received.

Another call for help is from Noel Doyle, operations director of Advanced Laboratory Testing in Kildare, which will be helping the National Virus Reference Lab with its testing.

“There are different stages to process, the first being admin. Then there is a preparation stage, which is labour intensive, but people will be trained,” Doyle told

“For this, you don’t need lab experience, but a science qualification or advanced science students will be required and [for] the last stage, people will require experience.” He added that the bulk of the work will be at the administration and preparation stage.

Outside of the healthcare and scientific community, many other Irish businesses are using their expertise in the fight against Covid-19.

Assay Genie plans to develop a coronavirus testing kit that could reduce testing times to as little as 15 minutes, and start-up Akara Robotics is rapidly developing a technology to keep hospitals clean of coronavirus.

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic