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Belfast Trust patient recall: Call for widening of review to include pre-2016 complaints



Sinn Fein’s Pat Sheehan

Sinn Fein’s Pat Sheehan

Sinn Fein’s Pat Sheehan

Pressure is growing on the Belfast Health Trust to provide answers after it emerged that serious complaints had been made about Dr Michael Watt years before officials decided to review his work.

This week more than 2,500 patients across Northern Ireland - some as young as 14 - received letters from the trust telling them that their cases were to be subject to an urgent review after concerns were raised about the Hillsborough neurologist's performance.

A critical report by the Royal College of Physicians made the patient recall decision inevitable.

Many patients with serious conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS) have contacted the Belfast Telegraph to express shock and fear at the news their healthcare may have been compromised by misdiagnosis or inappropriate treatment.

The Belfast Trust has said that "concerns were raised by doctors at the end of 2016 (December) and immediately patient safety measures were put in place which included restrictions on aspects of Dr Watt's practice".

However, it has since emerged that credible complaints about Dr Watt had been made as far back as at least 2011.

One woman told the Belfast Telegraph yesterday how she complained about Dr Watt to trust medical director Dr Cathy Jack in May 2014. She spoke out after Dr Jack told the BBC that over the last seven years there had been "no red flag in relation to the complaints and in particular none around his diagnosis and treatments".

Dr Mark Mitchelson addresses the media after the Belfast Health Trust recalled 2,500 patients.

And earlier this week Melissa McCullough, who is a non-executive director for the Health and Social Care Board NI, revealed she had made an official complaint after Dr Watt incorrectly diagnosed her with multiple sclerosis (MS) instead of neurological Lyme disease in 2010.

Her complaint was lodged in 2011.

Last night Sinn Fein health spokesman Pat Sheehan called on the Department of Health to consider complaints involving Dr Watt as far back as 2011.

Mr Sheehan said: "I welcome the department's commitment to review the process since the Belfast Trust first became aware of concerns about Dr Watt's practice.

"It is important that the department's review considers complaints made by patients involving Dr Watt prior to December 2016 - when the trust said it first became aware of concerns.

"There is already one formal complaint in the public domain dating back to 2011."

The West Belfast MLA said he had seen evidence of at least one other formal complaint made by a private patient of Dr Watt in 2011 to the General Medical Council.

"Complaints prior to those made by health professionals in December 2016 should also be considered as part of the review of the process to establish whether action could have been taken earlier.

"The department's review must look not just at concerns raised about Dr Watt's work in the public sector but should consider any concerns about his work carried out in private clinics."

Dr Watt was employed by the Belfast Trust and was based at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

At the same time he worked at two private practices.

He treated patients with neurological conditions including Parkinson's disease, epilepsy, MS, stroke and motor neurone disease.

Dr Watt was suspended on full pay in June 2017.

Belfast Telegraph