Belfast Telegraph

Dr Watt neurology scandal: PSNI meet health officials to determine if crime committed

Neurologist Michael Watt
Neurologist Michael Watt
Mark Edwards

By Mark Edwards

Police have met with Department of Health officials over the Dr Michael Watt neurology patient recall scandal and are assessing the possibility crimes may have been committed.

In 2018, nearly 3,000 of Dr Watt's patients were recalled for a fresh assessment and one in five were told they had been misdiagnosed.

Police have now said it has met with senior officials within the Department of Health to discuss the issue.

A PSNI spokesperson said: "The department has agreed to provide us with further information so that we can assess how best to move forward and to enable us to determined if any potential criminal offences can be identified."

It comes after a BBC Spotlight investigation found Dr Watt carried out hundreds of needless procedures on patients.

Dr Watt, who is suspended from practising medicine, worked at the Royal Victoria Hospital as a neurologist.

The Spotlight investigation has revealed Dr Watt was responsible for a huge spike in the number of epidural blood patches carried out in the Belfast Trust in 2015 and 2016.

The invasive procedure is a rare neurological treatment used to treat patients with a condition called spontaneous intracranial hypotension.

A blood patch involves injecting the patient's own blood into their spine.

BBC Spotlight obtained a report by the Department of Health which confirmed that almost none of the patients on whom Dr Watt carried out blood patches had the condition he was treating them for.

SDLP MLA Nichola Mallon, who has campaigned on behalf of many of Dr Watt's patients, told BBC Radio Ulster the news was "heartbreaking" for patients.

"The fact that in many cases they (patients) were given diagnosis of really severe conditions that they didn't have, that so many were put on drugs that they never should have been put on, that so many of the blood patch patients- almost all of them- went through that very invasive procedure and they never ever needed to and they were put through excoriating pain, it is absolutely devastating," she said.

Ms Mallon said Dr Watt's patients feel abandoned and that their lives have been "devastated".

Spotlight's research indicates that Dr Watt carried out 261 blood patches in a nine year period from 2009 to 2017, more than 160 of which were over two years, 2015 and 2016.

The BBC sent Freedom of Information requests to 150 health trusts across the UK asking them how many blood patches they carried out in 2015 and 2016.

It revealed Dr Watt was carrying out more blood patches than any of them.

One patient Therese Ward told Spotlight how she contracted meningitis after one of her blood patches while another two were excruciatingly painful.

Belfast Trust said a report into Dr Watt's care recommended new guideline for blood patches which had recently been implemented. The trust said it could not comment on individual cases.

Spotlight also revealed in 2016 a Comber based GP noticed that several of his patients were receiving blood patches.

He then contacted Belfast Trust and told them he didn't think his patients need the procedure.

Six months later, Dr Watt was removed from clinical duties. He was then suspended from practising medicine in early 2019.

A Department of Heath spokesperson said that, while they fully recognised that the delay in the release of the recall outcomes report is "hugely frustrating" for Dr Watt's former patients, they must emphasise that all patients have had direct dialogue with clinicians about their own diagnosis.

“The Department’s position on the publication of the outcomes report is being kept under review. The Department has emphasised its own frustration at the situation," they said.

“Political representatives were provided with a detailed and confidential briefing in September on the recall, including the specific reasons for the delay in publication.

“The Department has initiated a series of actions to address the serious issues raised by the neurology recall. These include the establishment of an independent inquiry panel comprising its chair Brett Lockhart QC and Professor Hugo Mascie-Taylor.

“The panel is tasked with reviewing the actions by Belfast Trust from December 2016 to May 2018 in relation to concerns raised about the clinical practice of Dr Michael Watt.

“It is also assessing whether grounds existed for earlier intervention by the Trust.”

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