Belfast Telegraph

First picture of the doctor being probed after massive patient recall

By Victoria Leonard

The Belfast Telegraph can today reveal the face of the neurologist who is at the centre of the recall of thousands of patients.

Six weeks ago officials revealed they were contacting around 2,500 NHS patients and just more than 110 private patients after a Royal College of Physicians report raised concerns over Dr Michael Watt.

Former patients of Dr Watt have since told this newspaper that they were “living in agony” and believe this is as a result of treatment they received from the medic.

However, Dr Watt has not spoken publicly on the issue and has managed to remain under the radar — until now.

In another development, the five main political parties have sent a joint email to Department of Health permanent secretary Richard Pengelly over the format of the independent inquiry into the handling of the recall process.

The panel, which comprises chair Brett Lockhart QC and Dr Hugo Mascie-Taylor, published its terms of reference last Thursday.

They revealed that the inquiry will examine the circumstances which led to the patient recall last month.

It will evaluate corporate governance within the Belfast Trust, specifically the reporting of issues related to patient care and safety.

The inquiry will also review the Belfast Trust’s handling of complaints or concerns prior to November 2016, and processes to maintain standards of professional practice, such as appraisals.  It will identify “learning points” and make recommendations.

However, in the email to Mr Pengelly on behalf of the UUP, DUP, Sinn Fein, SDLP and Alliance, Mike Nesbitt MLA requested a meeting between Mr Lockhart and the parties, expressing “concerns” over the terms of reference.

He wrote: “Locally elected representatives do not consider it acceptable that the terms of reference have been drawn up without their input.

“Had the Assembly been sitting, there is no doubt the statutory committee responsible for health would have invited Mr Lockhart to a witness session where the terms of reference would have been discussed and amendments proposed.

“In the absence of the Assembly and its Executive, it is essential that political representatives have the opportunity to support this important inquiry and to that end, a facilitated meeting is required as a matter of urgency to discuss our concerns. We further note with disappointment that the department has not scheduled a fortnightly update meeting this week and wish to know your intentions for convening future meetings to update political representatives on the progress of the 12-week review process.”

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Nesbitt said: “My party is not at all satisfied with the current terms of reference of the inquiry, not least the manner in which they were drawn up.

“That is why I sought a meeting of all the political parties earlier this week, and I am glad that they also shared many similar concerns.”

SDLP MLA Nichola Mallon, who has been contacted by a number of concerned former patients of Dr Watt, said the terms of reference “don’t have any mechanism for patients to give their evidence”.

“It’s extremely process-focussed, but we are concerned that it doesn’t appear to give a platform to patients,” the party’s deputy leader said. “I have been contacted by patients who believe they were misdiagnosed, were erroneously prescribed medication, or had procedures wrongly carried out.

“They are furious and feel completely excluded from an inquiry about what they suffered.”

Sinn Fein’s Pat Sheehan said there were “a number of concerns” over the terms of reference, “particularly the absence of input being taken from elected representatives in drafting them”.

He added: “I raised this concern directly with the permanent secretary myself in a meeting last week. Prior to the terms of reference being published, Sinn Fein released our five criteria by which we would measure their robustness.

“Further detail concerning the terms of reference, such as a clear timescale for the completion of the inquiry, is needed for the chair in assessing how robust they are.”

Alliance’s Paula Bradshaw said that her party “share the concerns that the terms of reference are not wide enough”.

The Department of Health said: “The Department of Health will continue to engage with elected representatives on the neurology patient recall and the very serious issues involved.”

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

Another RQIA review will look at the governance of outpatient clinics in the Belfast Trust, focusing on neurology services.

Belfast Telegraph

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