Belfast Telegraph

Neurologist gets interim suspension from medical practice in UK

By Victoria Leonard

Belfast neurologist Dr Michael Watt has been handed an interim suspension, temporarily preventing him from practising as a doctor in the UK.

The medic was previously restricted from clinical duties with the Belfast Trust in the summer of 2017, meaning he was no longer seeing patients.

In May 2018, health officials revealed they were contacting around 2,500 health service patients and just over 110 private patients after a Royal College of Physicians report raised concerns about him.

Last October, it was announced that an additional 1,044 former patients of Dr Watt would be recalled.

However, until Thursday's hearing of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) in Manchester, Dr Watt would still have been able to practise in heavily restricted circumstances.

These were subject to 10 conditions which were imposed on his General Medical Council (GMC) registration at a previous MPTS Interim Orders Tribunal on May 9, 2018.

The 10 conditions included the requirement that Dr Watt "must be closely supervised in all of his posts by a clinical supervisor". Several restrictions were also put on the Hillsborough medic's treatment of patients with neurological conditions.

For example, it was stipulated that he "must not prescribe disease modifying therapies for multiple sclerosis patients without prior discussion within, and the approval of, an appropriately constituted trust-wide multi-disciplinary team." Another condition stated that "his management of patients with epilepsy should be in accordance with NICE [National Institute for Health and Care Excellence] clinical guidelines and his prescribing practice of such patients must be subject to regular clinical audit."

Furthermore, Dr Watt could "only perform epidural blood patching in line with his employing trust's protocol, and his practice must be subject to regular clinical audit at intervals agreed with his supervisor."

Dr Watt was also required to allow the GMC to exchange information with his employer or any contracting body for which he provided medical services, was barred from work as a locum and was only able to work in an NHS post or setting.

However, since Thursday's ruling, these conditions have been replaced by a temporary suspension from working as a doctor in the UK.

It is understood all fitness-to-practise sanctions and actions are circulated to a wide range of recipients and international regulators in the UK and EEA by the MPTS.

A spokesperson for the GMC stated: "An Interim Orders Tribunal (IOT) at the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service replaced the doctor's interim conditions, with an interim suspension on January 3, 2019.

"The Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service operates separately from the investigatory role of the GMC and makes independent decisions on cases.

"We can refer a doctor to the MPTS for an IOT at any point during an investigation, if it is necessary for the protection of the public, or otherwise in the public interest or in the interests of the doctor.

"The tribunal does not determine the facts of what happened but undertakes a risk assessment of whether temporary protection is needed while a full investigation is carried out.

"We can confirm our investigation is ongoing."

The website of the MPTS lists Dr Watt's order as "interim conditions replaced with an interim suspension, subject to review".

It is understood that no date has yet been listed for any review hearing.

The Belfast Trust said: "Dr Watt remains restricted from all clinical duties".

In May 2018, Department of Health permanent secretary Richard Pengelly announced the establishment of an independent inquiry.

The inquiry, chaired by Brett Lockhart QC, is reviewing the recall of neurology patients by the Belfast Trust.

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