Belfast Telegraph

Forget compensation, I want my doctor back: consultant's patient

By Mark Bain

A former patient of the consultant at the centre of Northern Ireland's biggest patients recall says she doesn't want any compensation from the Belfast Health Trust - she just wants her neurologist back.

Rhonda O'Neill (44) from Magherafelt is now footing her own bill to travel to London to get the specialist treatment she needs for a rare condition - autonomic neuropathy - which results in her organs not working properly.

Last week the Belfast Trust issued an apology for how the recall has been handled and said a compensation scheme was being considered for the 3,200 patients affected.

But Rhonda says that any offer, which would still have to be passed at Stormont, will make little difference to her and many others who have been left without the consultant they trusted and had complete faith in.

"What am I going to do with compensation if I don't have my health?" she said. "The only thing I want is to be a patient of Dr Watt again.

"I know the Belfast Trust are in an awful position given what's been going on over the past few weeks, but it's my health, and the health of many others, that is now the main problem.

"The past year has been dreadful for me. I last saw Dr Watt on June 14 and since then I've had no point of contact. I've had to make arrangements myself.

"And I'm not really sure how to take any apology that's been issued. In truth, while appreciated, any apology doesn't make my situation any better.

"In fact, it would be lovely to see the Belfast Trust issuing an apology to Dr Watt over how this has been handled from start to finish, how his name has been released and how he has suffered as a result.

"He dedicated his life to neurology and gave everything to me. He's always been such a humble man but so positive as well."

Rhonda said there had been many times over the past eight years when she had felt like giving up.

"I would get one health issue sorted but there's always been another waiting just around the corner. But he's always been there for me. The treatment I've received from him has been nothing but exceptional," she said.

"Dr Watt was able to diagnose me with a very rare condition. It's extremely hard to diagnose and extremely hard to treat, but the care I've been given has been second to none.

"Before seeing Dr Watt I had been wrongly diagnosed on two occasions by other consultants, but they have not been named by me and will never be. In fact the first neurology consultant I saw told me I would never have any other symptoms. That was wrong. Are they under any sort of investigation? No. Will they ever be? I doubt it. Do I want them to be? No.

"And I'm sure that's happened to so many others. How many doctors will now be looking over their shoulders every time they make a diagnosis if this is what could potentially happen to them?"

Rhonda now has to travel outside Northern Ireland for treatment.

"For the past year, since Dr Watt hasn't been working, I've had to go to London to receive the treatment I need. I've been over there six times to see different specialists and each time there's been nothing but praise for Dr Watt and what he was doing for me.

"This week alone I'll be in Coleraine, then the RVH to see different specialists, and that's on top of the trips over to London. Before all of this I had one doctor who looked after everything."

Patients are continuing to attend recall meetings with the Belfast Trust, but Rhonda is concerned that many already ill patients are being unnecessarily subjected to investigations they don't require.

"I've yet to hear from anyone who didn't have their diagnosis from Dr Watt confirmed," she said.

Around 3,200 public and private former patients of the Belfast-based neurologist have been initially earmarked for review and others may be brought into the major probe.

A series of investigations, including an independent inquiry led by a barrister, have been established following concerns about work by the consultant.

In a statement, the Belfast Trust said it "recognises this is a very difficult situation for everyone involved; for all of Dr Watt's patient's and for everyone who knows him".

"We are sorry for the distress it has caused but recalling patients is not a decision we took lightly and it was based on independent and expert advice. The purpose of the recall is to assure our patients, their families and ourselves that each patient is receiving the best possible care," it said.

"The department will be examining options for a potential redress scheme for patients found to have suffered adverse impacts from inappropriate or incorrect diagnoses. It is right and proper that consideration is given to redress; patients have been let down and the health and social care system must acknowledge that. A final decision on redress arrangements will ultimately rest with ministers."

Belfast Telegraph

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