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Dr Michael Watt leaves Belfast Trust after NI's biggest patient recall


Neurologist Dr Michael Watt

Neurologist Dr Michael Watt

Neurologist Dr Michael Watt

The doctor at the centre of Northern Ireland's biggest ever patient recall has left his position at the Belfast Trust, it has been reported.

In 2018, almost 3,000 patients were recalled as part of a probe into the work of Dr Michael Watt at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital.

While he had stopped seeing patients due to restrictions placed on him, he remained an employee of the trust. Last year he had applied for retirement on medical grounds.

The Irish News on Monday, reported he was no longer employed by Northern Ireland's largest health trust. Although the trust refused to state when he left or on what terms, citing data protection laws.

The paper also reported the inquiry into the scandal has resumed face-to-face interviews. Richard Pengelly, permanent secretary at the DoH, established the Independent Neurology Inquiry into neurology services at the Belfast Trust in May 2018.

Almost 200 people - including health staff and patients - are thought to have contributed so far with around 30,000 new papers of evidence submitted.

The inquiry team said it was now at a "sensitive and critical stage in the consideration of its terms of reference".

Dr Michael Watt worked at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital for 20 years. As a neurologist he worked with people with conditions such as epilepsy, stroke, multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease and Parkinson's. Concerns about potential misdiagnoses of his patients were formally raised in December 2016 by a GP.

The Belfast Trust said that patient safety measures were immediately put in place which included restrictions on aspects of Dr Watt's practice.

Over 3,000 patients were recalled to attend appointments in 2018. The neurologist was subsequently suspended by the General Medical Council in November 2019.

A report into the recall, published in December 2019 by the Department of Health (DoH), found that more than 20% of these patients were misdiagnosed, while a further 329 patients were given "uncertain" diagnoses.

It's thought payouts for compensation could be among the highest in UK medical history.

Earlier this year it was reported 231 litigation cases relating to the treatment suspended neurologist Dr Michael Watt provided to his patients have been laid against the trust.

In February the first compensation case relating to Dr Watt had been paid out. It was settled outside of court without an admission of liability, however the individual who brought the case was a private patient of the neurologist and was not involved in the patient recall.

The Department of Health is considering a compensation scheme in order to try and progress payments earlier than through the court process and in the hope of minimising distress.

A spokeswoman for the department said it "can also take years to develop, secure the necessary approvals and implement".

"It is for this reason that the department had been examining the alternative of significantly streamlining the civil litigation process. In the meantime, all claims received to date in respect of the care provided by the consultant neurologist are progressing under the standard arrangements for health service litigation claims."

Dr Watt has said he recognised the "distress these events have caused" and offered "sincere sympathy" to those affected.

In October last year, the then chief executive of the trust, Martin Dillon, sent a letter to former patients caught up in the recall to apologise for the distress they have experienced.

He said: "I also recognise that for some people the outcome of [further] tests may have resulted in deep distress and I am acutely aware of the impact of that news. For that, I am truly sorry."

The Belfast Trust confirmed to the Belfast Telegraph Dr Watt was not longer an employee. It said it had nothing further to add.

Belfast Telegraph