Belfast Telegraph

Dr Watt neurology scandal: Suspended neurologist offers 'sincere sympathy' to patients

Neurologist Michael Watt
Neurologist Michael Watt

The neurologist behind Northern Ireland's largest ever patient recall has offered his "sincere sympathy" to the patients affected.

Dr Michael Watt, who worked at the Royal Victoria Hospital, was suspended from practicing medicine last year after 3,000 patients were given recall appointments over fears they had been misdiagnosed.

Earlier this week, a BBC Spotlight investigation was broadcast which found that Dr Watt carried out hundreds of needless procedures on patients.

The Spotlight investigation 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.

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.

Police have met with Department of Health officials over the scandal and are investigating whether crimes may have been committed.

Dr Watt failed in a legal bid to stop the broadcast of the Spotlight programme and ended injunction proceedings over media coverage of his work at Belfast High Court on Thursday.

In a statement to the BBC, his first public statement since the scandal broke, Dr Watt said: "Patient care has always been of the utmost importance to me and the key focus throughout my career.

"I have always sought to act in the best interests of my patients.

"Current investigations have highlighted concerns over the security of a number of my patients' diagnoses.

!I recognise the considerable distress these events have caused and I can only express my sincere sympathy to any of my patients affected as a result."

The publication of a report into the outcome of the patient recall was due to be published in June, but was postponed.

In a statement following the Spotlight programme, a Department of Health 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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