Dr Watt patients receive letters of apology from Belfast Trust
People at the centre of Northern Ireland's largest ever patient recall have received letters of apology from the head of the Belfast Trust, it has been revealed.
It comes more than a year after the scandal broke and marks the first time Belfast Trust's chief executive Martin Dillon has corresponded with those affected.
Many patients were misdiagnosed or received the wrong drug treatment while under the care of consultant neurologist Dr Michael Watt.
The letter, seen by The Irish News, contains three separate apologies from Mr Dillon.
It also gives "assurances" on the trust's co-operation with separate health service reviews.
It reads: "I am writing to you as Chief Executive of the Belfast Trust to sincerely apologise for the distress we may have caused, when, in April 2018...you were required to come under the care of a different consultant neurologist. I understand that your diagnosis, care and treatment have been reviewed and discussed with you.
"I also recognise that for some people the outcome of (further) tests may have resulted in deep distress and I am acutely aware of the impact of that news. For that, I am truly sorry."
One patient who was misdiagnosed and prescribed highly-addictive medication for five years which she didn't require said she found some of the language used "insulting".
"To suggest the trust "may" have caused distress is just not right. The reality is that they have caused me huge amounts of distress and anxiety since I first learned two years ago there was concern about an invasive blood procedure I had," she said.
"This letter is also the first piece of written correspondence I have received from the trust since the original recall last year. It tells us what we already know in terms of the different reviews being ordered but it gives no updates on the work of these reviews.
"After the recall was ordered we were told there would be 'harm assessments' for patients - but these have never materialised. This has also caused further distress."
More than 3,000 patients have been recalled to date for reviews since May 2017, including those suffering from epilepsy, Parkinson's and Multiple Sclerosis.
An outcomes report scheduled for June this year was due to be published by the Department of Health and was expected to detail the scale of the misdiagnosis rates but it was cancelled by the trust due to "unforeseen circumstances".
It was later revealed that Dr Watt was due to retire on "medical grounds" after being based at the Royal Victoria Hospital for 20 years and having also worked in private healthcare clinics.
SDLP MLA Nichola Mallon said while Mr Dillon's letter of apology was a "positive" development, many questions remain unanswered.
"This is a very carefully crafted letter," she said.
"Patients have been frustrated by the lack of communication from the trust so I would hope this will lead to increased openness and transparency, patients can no longer be left in the dark," she said.
"The absolute distress that has been caused is shocking, with so many patients being misdiagnosed and given the wrong drugs for years. Important harm assessments were never carried out - despite pledges being made by government. This needs to happen."
The Belfast Trust was contacted for a response.
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