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Northern Ireland health trust keeps Dr Watt patient recall report secret

Northern Ireland health trust trying to protect Dr Watt, claims patient's mum


The Belfast Trust is the biggest in Northern Ireland.

The Belfast Trust is the biggest in Northern Ireland.

Zoe Scott

Zoe Scott

Zoe's mother Amanda

Zoe's mother Amanda

The Belfast Trust is the biggest in Northern Ireland.

The Belfast Health Trust has refused to release a copy of the report which sparked the recall of over 2,500 neurology patients - on the grounds that it is "personal" to the doctor at the centre of the incident.

The trust's refusal comes despite the Department of Health's top civil servant Richard Pengelly apologising "unreservedly" for the recall and promising "an open and robust process".

The recall of thousands of patients treated by Dr Michael Watt began earlier this month after a year-long examination of patient notes relating to his work by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP).

It is understood that the RCP is unable to release the report as it was commissioned by the Belfast Trust.

However, when this newspaper contacted the trust directly to request a copy of the report at the heart of the recall, which has caused severe anxiety for patients, a spokesperson replied: "The Royal College of Physicians report is personal to Dr Watt. We are taking action based on its findings."

A spokesperson for the RCP said that its report had "confirmed patient safety concerns" and that it "will continue to monitor" the Belfast Trust's work to implement the recommendations.

Amanda Scott, whose 29-year-old daughter Zoe was diagnosed with a terminal brain condition after more than four years without a scan in the care of Dr Watt, accused the trust of "adding insult to injury" by failing to release the report.

Zoe suffered a stroke at the end of March 2011 - when she was a student nurse with an 18-month-old daughter - and within weeks was placed under Dr Watt's care at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

Amanda said that despite her daughter suffering from severe daily headaches, suicidal feelings and a "complete personality change", she was not offered a scan or any other kind of investigation for over four-and-a-half years.

Amanda said it wasn't until Zoe collapsed in December 2015 that she finally had a brain scan at the Royal - which showed that she had progressive Moyamoya disease, a rare cerebrovascular disorder.

"It's absolutely shameful to recall 2,500 patients without telling them the findings of this report," Amanda said, breaking down in tears.

"Since the recall, Dr Watt's patients have been going through a period of terrible anxiety and can't get answers from the Belfast Trust.

"I believe that the trust is making more effort to protect Dr Watt than to provide answers to patients. I can remember sitting in Dr Watt's office begging him for a scan for my daughter, but I thought I could trust him as a medical professional.

"Now my daughter has gone from being a student nurse to just sitting in a chair in supported living watching TV 24 hours a day.

"She isn't able to be a proper mummy to her wee girl. If Zoe had been diagnosed sooner she might have got the treatment she needed and could have been able to have a better quality of life for longer and to care for her daughter.

"Zoe has her recall appointment on June 4, but what good can that do her now?

"I want answers, and I am considering going down the legal route to get them.

"This has really, really got to me.

"I have barely been able to leave the house since it all started."

SDLP MLA Nichola Mallon said that she had repeatedly requested the release of the RCP report, and described the trust's communication with patients affected by the recall as "extremely poor".

"Patients of Dr Watt at the heart of this recall have requested copies of the report, and I have made multiple requests to the Belfast Trust on their behalf," she said.

"I can see no reason why, at the very minimum, the conclusions and recommendations cannot be made public, given that this is a matter of patient interest and of wider public interest and confidence in our health service.

"To date, the communication to patients has been extremely poor.

"They deserve to know the truth and to know what is going on."

A spokesperson for the RCP said that it had been "invited by Belfast Health and Social Care Trust to undertake a review of the care of a group of patients, of one consultant in the medical specialty of neurology".

The spokesperson added: "The review of the patient records by our team of clinical experts confirmed patient safety concerns.

"The final report was issued to the trust on April 26, 2018 and we will continue to monitor their work to implement the recommendations of our report.

"We have been encouraged by the approach the trust is taking to ensure patients are proactively seen and are receiving care that is of a high standard.

"Our invited reviews enable professionally led teams, including a lay person representing the patient and public interest, to determine whether there is cause for concern about clinical practice and to make recommendations for improvement.

"Our unwavering commitment to patient care is why we offer hospitals and the NHS an invited review service."

Last week, the Belfast Trust said that it was still searching for 300 patients involved in the patient recall.

Belfast Telegraph