Belfast Telegraph

Complaints made against patient recall doctor before 2016, says Sinn Fein

By Victoria Leonard

Sinn Fein has claimed it is aware of at least 14 complaints made against Belfast neurologist Dr Michael Watt between 2011 and 2016.

The party also wants the Department of Health to publish "robust terms of reference" for an inquiry into the patient recall "without further delay".

The Belfast Health Trust, which has ordered the recall of more than 2,500 of Dr Watt's former NHS patients, has said it first became aware of concerns regarding the consultant in December 2016.

Sinn Fein health spokesperson Pat Sheehan MLA said his party was "becoming frustrated and concerned at the lack of clarity from the Belfast Trust and the health department".

The Department of Health has commissioned an independent inquiry panel, chaired by Brett Lockhart QC, to examine the handling of the recall process.

It is understood the independent panel inquiry is finalising its own terms of reference.

Mr Sheehan said his party was "aware that a total of 14 complaints were made against Dr Watt between 2011 and 2016, and possibly more prior to that".

"The conflicting information and lack of clarity from the department is eroding confidence that the reviews will uncover the full facts," he commented.

"Therefore, we are today calling on the department to publish robust terms of reference without any further delay.

"These terms of reference must clearly demonstrate that they will get to the truth of all matters concerning Dr Watt's [role] and the role of the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and the Department of Health in the failures that led to the recall.

"This crisis is too grave. One doctor has told us that it could be as big, if not bigger, than the cervical cancer scandal in the south."

In addition to the independent inquiry, the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) is to conduct a review to examine the records of all patients or former patients of Dr Watt who have died over the past 10 years. Its terms of reference were published last month.

Another RQIA review will look at the governance of outpatient clinics in the Belfast Trust, with a particular focus on neurology services.

A Belfast Trust spokesperson said: "We take every complaint very seriously and they are thoroughly and fully investigated through a robust complaints procedure.

"Every complaint received regarding Dr Watt was fully investigated and did not raise any areas of concern."

The spokesperson continued: "In December 2016 concerns were raised by a GP and by another doctor about a very specific area of Dr Watt's practice.

"The trust immediately took action to ensure patient safety by putting in place restrictions culminating in Dr Watt being fully restricted from seeing patients from June 2017."

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