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Belfast patient recall inquiry extends range to include submissions from before 2008

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Dr Michael Watt

Dr Michael Watt

The inquiry’s Professor Hugo Mascie-Taylor and Brett Lockhart QC

The inquiry’s Professor Hugo Mascie-Taylor and Brett Lockhart QC

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Dr Michael Watt

An independent inquiry into the recall of 2,500 neurology patients by a local health trust has widened its timeframe to accept public submissions beyond its original intended cut-off point of 10 years ago.

The development came yesterday as the non-statutory inquiry panel, chaired by Brett Lockhart QC, announced the start of its eight-week public engagement exercise.

Current and past patients, their relatives and health care workers who have experience of neurology services which treats conditions as multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease and Parkinson's, under the Belfast Trust "before, or since 2008 up until June 2018" are being encouraged to participate in the process.

The Belfast Telegraph understands that the original start-off point was initially 2008. However, new evidence obtained by the inquiry prompted it to widen its review back to earlier than a decade ago.

How further back, though, has not been specified.

In May more than 2,500 patients were recalled by the Belfast Trust following a probe into the work of consultant neurologist Dr Michael Watt, whose patient notes were subject to a year-long examination by the Royal College of Physicians.

Concern was first raised about Dr Watt's treatment and diagnosis of some patients at the end of 2016.

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The doctor is not currently treating patients.

The trust previously offered an apology to those affected by the situation.

Mr Lockhart said yesterday the Independent Neurology Inquiry, which will also have Professor Hugo Mascie-Taylor on the panel, will be service-user focused.

"Whilst this is not a statutory inquiry, we have been determined to interpret our remit in a manner which takes into account the voices of patients and others who have had experience of neurology services within the greater Belfast area over the past 10 years," explained the barrister.

"We want this to be a meaningful process."

The terms of reference mean the panel will look at the circumstances that led to the patient recall, as well as the Belfast Trust's handling of relevant complaints or concerns, identified before November 2016, before it makes recommendations to the health department.

The inquiry, however, will not make any decisions on the clinical practice or employment status of Dr Watt, nor is it involved in any compensation scheme for those affected.

The panel will eventually extend its review to cover all four remaining health trusts.

The public can participate by completing questionnaires found at: www.neurologyinquiry.org.uk, or obtained copies from MLA offices.

David Galloway, NI director of the MS Society, is urging neurology service users take part following what he described as a "difficult and anxious time" for those affected by the recall.

"Patients and families have many, as yet, unanswered questions arising from this," he said.

Both the SDLP's Nichola Mallon and Sinn Fein's Pat Sheehan encouraged service users to come forward.

"If we are ever to get to the truth of what happened and how it was allowed to happen, the voice of patients under the care of Dr Watt is critical," said Mrs Mallon.

Mr Sheehan stressed that it is "vital" the inquiry learns as much possible from questionnaire respondents.


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