Belfast Telegraph

RVH doctor probe: Pressure mounts on Belfast health trust over its 'wall of silence'

By David Young

A Northern Ireland health trust at the centre of a growing misdiagnosis scandal has been accused of hiding behind a wall of silence.

The Belfast Trust came under criticism after failing to answer a series of questions around Dr Michael Watt.

A high-level review of the work of Dr Watt, a neurology consultant, has led to the biggest ever recall of patients by the trust.

Some 2,500 patients are being summoned back for a case review over fears they have been misdiagnosed.

And last night Kathy Jack, medical director of the Belfast Trust, was unable to say whether anyone had died as a result of misdiagnoses by the suspended neurologist. "I cannot say that at the moment," she told the BBC.

Yesterday the Belfast Telegraph send a list of questions to the trust about the growing scandal. However, it answered none of them.

North Belfast SDLP MLA Nichola Mallon said she had contacted the Belfast Trust about Dr Watt in December 2017, but had not received satisfactory answers to her questions.

"I was met by a brick wall, and the patients were met with a brick wall," she said.

The Assemblywoman said she had been inundated with calls from worried patients who had received a recall letter - and also from patients of Dr Watt who had not received any letter.

"They are frightened and confused, and don't know what is happening," she said. "We don't need this wall of silence. It only serves to make the patients and the public more anxious."

Strangford DUP MP Jim Shannon said last night that the trust had a lot to do to restore people's confidence.

"We need transparency. This is a massive issue. People's concerns must be addressed," the DUP health spokesman said.

"Facts need to be known, and people must have their minds put at rest. People have a right to know what's happened to them."

The top civil servant at the Department of Health, Richard Pengelly, has called in health watchdog the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) to review neurology outpatient services. The department has also ordered the RQIA to ensure the records of all Dr Watt's patients who've died over the past decade are subject to expert review.

Alliance health spokeswoman Paula Bradshaw MLA said: "My concern is about how long it's going to take for patients to be absolutely assured that they have a safe diagnosis and that they're on the correct care plan. With neurological conditions, every day, week and month is crucial."

UUP health spokesman Roy Beggs MLA said: "I simply cannot understand how, when concerns were raised in December 2016, it has taken until May 2018 for patients to be notified that they have potentially been misdiagnosed and have been receiving the wrong treatment ever since. This is not some administrative error - these are people's lives we are talking about."

Sinn Fein health spokesman Pat Sheehan MLA added: "There does seem to be some lack of clarity and a lack of communication between the relevant agencies on that issue and that is very concerning."

The questions we asked

• On what date did the Trust first become aware that there may be issues for investigation regarding Dr Watt?

• Does the Trust have any record of individual patient concerns regarding treatment by

Dr Watt at any stage since 2008?

• On what date did the Trust actually inform the GMC of serious concerns which prompted investigation?

• Why did the Trust not alert patients and former patients once its own investigation had concluded and the matter was referred to RCP?

• What is the earliest date among the 2,500

patients who were recalled, and why did the Trust not recall patients earlier than that date?

• Of the sample of 48 patients investigated, how many were considered suspect diagnoses or treatments?

• Is Dr Watt currently under disciplinary procedures or simply ‘voluntarily’ not practising since June 2017?

• What is the timeframe for the completion of serious investigation of this doctor which will have disciplinary or other outcomes?

• What are the medical and governance checks and balances which safeguard those patients who find themselves switching between private healthcare and NHS though supervised by the same consultant?

• How many children are involved?

The Trust’s response:

Belfast Trust fully understand how difficult a time this is for a large number of our patients and their families. We are truly sorry for the anxiety it is causing.

Our priority is to ensure all patients are seen as quickly as possible and that patients receive the best possible care. 

As of 2nd May at 1.30pm, our advice line answered 1,130 calls and we have booked appointments for 1,800 patients.

For any patient or family member who is worried or who has concerns, we would encourage them to contact our advice line on 0800 980 1100. The lines will be open weekdays from 9am–9pm and weekends from 9am–5pm.

 We wish to assure anyone who raises any concerns with our advice line that the concern will be fully investigated and discussed with the individual.

 We continue to work closely with the Department of Health, the General Medical Council and the Royal College of Physicians whilst this review is ongoing.

Belfast Telegraph

Weekly Business Digest Newsletter

This week's business news headlines, directly to your inbox every Tuesday.

Popular