Anger as neurology review of Dr Watt’s deceased patients still hasn’t got under way after year
A review looking at the care of deceased patients of neurologist Dr Michael Watt, announced more than a year ago, has not started yet.
The Department of Health's permanent secretary Richard Pengelly announced the review by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) at the beginning of May last year.
It is part of a wide-ranging investigation into the care delivered by Dr Watt, as well as the oversight and management of neurology services in Northern Ireland.
However, work is still underway to establish the terms of reference and details of the review team, prompting anger from the son of a former patient of Dr Watt.
Colin Armstrong, whose mother Ruth died in 2002 at the age of 78 after she was diagnosed with a brain tumour, said he has been left frustrated and disappointed by the lack of information provided by health officials about the review.
"I met with the chief executive of the RQIA on June 11 last year and was told they were going to be starting work in September," he said.
"They told me they wanted to delay the review until then because they wanted the recall of living patients to be dealt with first, which I thought was quite reasonable. However, there have been no definitive answers since then.
"I emailed the RQIA over the summer months and on one occasion an email I sent went unanswered for 47 days. When a response came through it didn't actually address the questions I had asked. The most I can get out of them now about when the review is going to get properly under way is that it will start in due course, which is useless.
"It's not even as though they are giving a proper timeframe by saying it will start by August or September, it's unbelievably frustrating."
When he announced the RQIA review on May 2 last year, Mr Pengelly said: "There are clearly important wider questions which will need to be addressed both to fully understand and assess the impact of what has happened and also to ensure that we can have confidence in the safety of neurology services now and in the future."
It is understood the work being undertaken by the RQIA involves identifying which patients should be included in the review.
Next of kin also need to be informed and kept up-to-date, while the review team must also gain permission to access medical records.
A spokeswoman from the Department of Health said it could not comment on the matter.
However, an RQIA spokesman said: "Following the recall of neurology patients at the Belfast Trust in May 2018, the Department of Health commissioned RQIA to undertake two separate investigations. RQIA has recently concluded the first phase of this project, an extensive review of governance of outpatient services in the Belfast Trust, with a particular focus on neurology services.
"In parallel with this, RQIA has been preparing arrangements to commence its expert review of the records of all patients or former patients of Dr Michael Watt who have died over the past 10 years.
"This is a highly complex matter, and RQIA is sensitive to the concerns of those who have lost a loved one during this time period.
"At present we are agreeing the scope, methodology for this review, and membership of a project board to oversee this work.
"Once agreed, RQIA will publish its terms of reference for the review and details of the review team.
"Throughout this process RQIA has kept the Department of Health fully informed of progress."
Dr Watt, who is at the centre of the biggest ever recall of patients in Northern Ireland, is still suspended from working as a doctor in the UK while the General Medical Council continues its investigation.
The Belfast Trust recalled 2,500 of his patients after an independent review of patient notes, following on from an independent expert review by the Royal College of Physicians.
A further 1,044 patients were recalled in October last year.