Bid to inform private patients of Belfast consultant hampered as he retains files
The Ulster Independent Clinic has revealed that the neurologist at the centre of the Belfast patient recall has possession of the records of the private patients he treated there - hampering efforts to identify those who may need to be contacted.
Earlier this week 2,500 NHS patients here received letters from the Belfast Health Trust telling them that their cases were subject of an urgent review after concerns were raised about Dr Michael Watt's performance. It followed an independent investigation by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP).
The consultant was employed by the Belfast Trust for just over 20 years. However, he also saw private patients at the Ulster Independent Clinic in south Belfast and at Hillsborough Private Clinic.
The Belfast Trust has said that "concerns were raised by doctors at the end of 2016 (December) and immediately patient safety measures were put in place which included restrictions on aspects of Dr Watt's practice".
It has since emerged that complaints were made about the Hillsborough consultant as far back as 2011.
Despite this Dr Watt was only suspended from clinical duties in June 2017.
He is still an employee of the Belfast Trust and remains on full pay, but he is currently restricted from undertaking clinical duties, both in the NHS and private sector.
Yesterday the Ulster Independent Clinic said it had received the conclusions and recommendations from the Royal College of Physicians report on Wednesday, and had held a meeting of the senior management team and board representatives to consider the concerns raised by the document and the best approach to deal with them.
However, it revealed that its efforts to identify patients who may need to be contacted have been frustrated by the fact that Dr Watt still retains his own patient records.
The Ulster Independent Clinic said it was "urgently" seeking access to the information.
It said: "As an independent clinical practitioner who used the facilities at the Ulster Independent Clinic, Dr Watt retains his own patient records.
"We have sought advice on obtaining access to the information required from these files urgently to allow us to accurately identify any patients who may need to be contacted.
"We are acutely aware of the seriousness of this situation and the anxiety it is causing many patients and their families.
"As we focus on identifying those private patients who may need to be contacted in light of the concerns raised by the RCP report, we would like to reassure any of Dr Watt's patients, potentially impacted by this issue, that we are moving as quickly as possible to alleviate their concerns."
It said the clinic had "prioritised putting in place a process to identify the patients under active review by Dr Watt exclusively in his private practice at the Ulster Independent Clinic".
This would also entail identifying patients who "may have moved between the private sector and the NHS, and who may therefore already appear on the trust's patient recall list".
It described the process of identifying the patients concerned, which it is undertaking in consultation with the Belfast Trust, as "complex and time-consuming".
The clinic added: "Since this issue came to our attention, we have been liaising with the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust team to devise the best course of action to identify those patients impacted so as to avoid duplication or additional concern."
The Ulster Independent Clinic urged anyone with concerns relating to Dr Watt to phone its helpline on 028 9068 6511 between 9am and 6pm, Monday to Friday.