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Dr Watt: Refer yourselves to regulators, Robin Swann tells medics criticised in neurology inquiry


Robin Swann

Robin Swann

Robin Swann

The Health Minister has called on individuals criticised by the Independent Neurology Inquiry to refer themselves to their professional regulatory bodies.

Robin Swann also defended his response to the scandal, saying he had played a key role in setting up public inquiries to identify and address failings in the health service.

“I was actually the minister who gave it [the Independent Neurology Inquiry] full statutory powers to ensure that it could get to the bottom and to the answers that it needed to get to,” Mr Swann said.

“I think the chair actually acknowledged that.

“I have also been the minister that brought forward a statutory inquiry into urology, and also into Muckamore, because one of the things when I came into this office was my desire to make sure the health service actually delivered for the people of Northern Ireland.

“Not instigating those inquiries would have been a failing.”

When pressed on the issue of accountability, Mr Swann stopped short of saying whether anyone should lose their job over the “catalogue of missed opportunities” that resulted in patients of Dr Michael Watt coming to harm.

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“What I would say is that people should refer themselves to their own regulatory body if necessary, and then we will see what comes out of that,” the UUP minister said.

“There are processes within the health and social care system that will be looked at as well.”

Concerns over accountability were raised after a number of senior doctors criticised by the Hyponatraemia Inquiry in 2018 were allowed to continue working at the Belfast Trust without any sanctions.

At the time, the trust said it could not take any disciplinary action against the medics because of investigations by the General Medical Council.

They subsequently left their jobs at the trust ahead of fitness to practise hearings.

One of the doctors, Dr Robert Taylor, was struck off earlier this week after he was found guilty of misconduct over his attempt to cover up the circumstances surrounding the death of a four-year-old patient.

Alliance Party health spokeswoman Paula Bradshaw said: “It is simply not good enough to ask people to refer themselves to regulators, particularly when many of the issues raised and recommendations made in the report refer to poor regulation.

“It is simply not good enough to allow those named in the report to continue as if nothing happened.

“The very first port of call must be the patients. They and their interests must come first.

“That is the whole point of this, and to miss that point is to ignore that this inquiry ever took place. Patients deserve much better.”

Earlier in the day, Therese Ward, a former patient of Dr Watt, said: “This report is just making known what the situation is.

“This isn’t the end of the road, this is the beginning.

“We have been harmed by inaction, and we now know that the Belfast Trust had the information that would have prevented the harm to all of us.

“It had the information and sat on it. They are now liable, and we want to know, what are they going to do?

“We do not want people from the Belfast Trust coming forward and saying lessons will be learned.

“We’re not interested in that. We want accountability, not just corporate accountability.

“We want personal accountability where the people who have allowed harm to us are personally held accountable. That’s what we want.”

Former patients of Dr Watt also expressed fury that he was granted permission for voluntary erasure from the medical register.

The move meant that he did not have to face a fitness to practise hearing, which would have allowed the accusations of wrongdoing against him to be aired in public.

The General Medical Council and Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service came under fire after the application was heard in private.

Following a public outcry, a redacted explanation was released in November last year.

That report revealed that Dr Watt was spared a fitness to practise hearing into his work because of the risk it would lead to his suicide.

The MPTS was told Dr Watt had told a doctor he experienced “dark spells”, and that “it got that black” he had considered drowning or hanging himself.

The tribunal was also told he had no intention of working as a doctor again, to the point where he “deliberately avoided being confronted with medical issues, even avoiding watching medical dramas on TV”.

However, the report also revealed the MPTS panel heard conflicting evidence over the gravity of his condition.

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