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Belfast Trust patient recall: Barrister reported doctor to health watchdog in 2011

By Cate McCurry

A barrister has described how he raised serious concerns about neurologist Dr Michael Watt to the General Medical Council (GMC) as far back as 2011.

The former patient of Dr Watt, who does not want to be named, brought his complaints to the attention of the medical watchdog after claims the senior neurologist said his "exercise-induced migraine" could be managed with "cold showers after exercise".

The private patient claimed Dr Watt misdiagnosed him and he questioned Dr Watt's "fitness to practice medicine" with the GMC.

The Belfast Health Trust has claimed that a probe into Dr Watt's work came after concerns were raised by doctors, including a GP, in December 2016.

Several patients, however, have come forward to reveal that they made complaints about the consultant some five years prior to that.

Thousands of Dr Watt's patients have been recalled over concerns about the diagnosis and treatment provided by the senior consultant.

Neurology patients with complex, debilitating and life-altering conditions ranging from multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's to motor neurone disease are at the centre of the case review.

Dr Watt (56) is still an employee of the trust, but has not seen patients since June last year.

The barrister, who lives near Londonderry, was referred to Dr Watt in October 2011 after MRI scans revealed white matter lesions on his brain.

"These were very significant changes and I was concerned to find out what was causing them," the patient said.

"I was referred to Dr Watt privately in the Hillsborough clinic and my GP letter explained to him that I was there for a consultation because of all these white lesions on my brain.

"Dr Watt conducted a short consultation for about 25 minutes with us.

"He very quickly started telling me I had exercise-induced migraine and that it would be best managed with cold showers after exercise.

"He presented me with a diagnosis without doing a single thing. He was talking about exercise-induced migraine within five or six minutes of the consultation.

"He didn't discuss previous investigations or future investigations - it was really bizarre."

A few days after the consultation the patient wrote to Dr Watt to raise concerns about the medical advice he was provided with.

"I checked the exercise-induced migraine and his diagnosis had no basis whatsoever and the idea that cold water could be used to cure a degenerative brain condition was fantastical," he added.

The Derry man also complained to the GMC and gave a description of his consultation with Dr Watt, including the diagnosis and advice.

The GMC began a preliminary process and following a number of enquiries it found that Dr Watt's consultation was "less than desirable" but said that "a warning would be disproportionate".

"I had to move on and I needed properly investigated," he added.

"I sent my MRI scans to John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and I was told there were 64 white matter lesions and they recommended I travel there and be checked by the head of stroke services.

"I flew to the United States and within two days they identified a half inch hole in my heart and that was repaired in March 2012." He was diagnosed with an atrial septal defect (ASD) - a hole in the wall separating the upper chambers of the heart.

After spending almost £50,000 on medical costs, the patient contacted the GMC to make it aware of his diagnosis.

The GMC said: "We are aware of the concerns and will be working closely with the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust as reviews take place.

"It would be inappropriate to comment further while a patient recall is under way."

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