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Belfast Trust patient recall: Northern Ireland mum reported concerns four years ago after frightening diagnosis put life on hold

By Claire McNeilly

A woman has said she contacted Belfast Health Trust to complain about Dr Michael Watt four years ago - despite its medical director's assertion that there was "no red flag" over the neurologist's work in the last seven years.

Pamela Wilson (60) wrote a letter to medical director Dr Cathy Jack in May 2014 about an abnormal brain scan result while in the care of consultant neurologist Dr Watt, who is currently at the centre of Northern Ireland's biggest patient recall.

So concerned was the mother-of-three by the frightening Alzheimer's/dementia diagnosis of November 2013 that she raised her concerns by letter again in September 2014.

Mrs Wilson was being treated by Mr Watt at the Royal Victoria Hospital and as a private patient at the Ulster Independent Clinic.

She has now been told she must wait for the results of an "independent review" in respect of her complaint before she'll get any answers - or a proper written medical diagnosis of her debilitating illness.

On Wednesday, Dr Jack told the BBC: "We've reviewed our complaints over the last seven years and there is no red flag in relation to the complaints and in particular none around his diagnosis and treatments."

But last night the Belfast Trust said that no complaints made by patients regarding Dr Watt were seen as "red flag" issues.

"Most doctors receive complaints from time to time, some of which may be about diagnosis and treatment pathways," it said in a statement.

"We take every complaint very seriously and they are thoroughly and fully investigated through a robust complaints procedure.

"Dr Cathy Jack was completely accurate in her explanation.

"Any complaints received regarding Dr Watt (of which there were few) were fully investigated and did not raise any areas of concern."

Speaking at her south Belfast home, Mrs Wilson said her life has been on hold for almost a decade after "a completely life-changing seizure and stroke that have never been addressed. I'm in horrendous pain all the time. Without a proper diagnosis I've been battling for the last nine years to survive," she said.

"I'm just stuck. My condition has deteriorated and I haven't been able to take any medication since I had the stroke and seizure in 2009."

Mrs Wilson said the 2013 scan result she complained about suggested damage throughout her brain which was likened to dementia and Alzheimer's, but did not rule out Lewy body dementia.

"That's a heck of a diagnosis to be just left with," she said. "You can see by my letter that I wrote directly to Dr Cathy Jack about Dr Watt." Mrs Wilson said that her ongoing health problems began after she was prescribed benzodiazepine medication following an accident in 1981.

She subsequently spent thousands of pounds on private appointments with Dr Watt, during which time she also endured painful medical procedures.

After receiving the worrying brain scan results in November 2013, Mrs Wilson said she has been afraid to leave the house staying at home, at times disabled for months at a time. "It's terrifying; I have to carry a folder when I go out in case I collapse again and end up in hospital, because when I go in and they look at my notes there's nothing constructive there," she said.

Meanwhile, this newspaper has also seen a letter sent by Dr Watt from the Ulster Independent Clinic to Mrs Wilson's doctor in which he offers a different explanation for her ill-health.

He states: "On reviewing her story from the start, I feel that she may well have had spontaneous intracranial hypotension all along and that she might well benefit from a lumbar epidural blood patch."

Mrs Wilson said that this particular procedure - which she had in September 2016 - was the worst experience of her life.

"It was brutal... it was absolutely horrendous," she said.

"The pressure was so bad in my spinal cord and my brain I could taste and spit the blood and it was coming down my nose... and I have been absolutely tortured since.

"You're supposed to lie down for a while after the operation and then go home but I was in for eight days. There are times I can't talk, I can't swallow, my vision is dreadfully affected.

"My movement is the worst thing; all my muscles are dreadfully affected." She added: "I've been in a neurology ward between eight and 16 days on eight occasions - and still no-one can tell me what is wrong with me."

A spokesperson for the Ulster Independent Clinic said that it didn't comment on individual cases.

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