Belfast Telegraph

Over 600 Dr Watt patients given 'insecure' diagnosis, says official report into recall

Patient recall: Dr Michael Watt
Patient recall: Dr Michael Watt

A delayed report into the largest medical recall in the history of Northern Ireland has revealed over 600 patients were given an insecure diagnosis.

The Department of Health has published it's long awaited report into the recall of nearly 3,000 patients under the care of neurologist Dr Michael Watt.

The department said that it had intended to publish the report in the summer but due to "highly sensitive unforseen circumstances" it was postponed. It would not comment further.

Patients were recalled to assess if they received the appropriate diagnoses and treatment.

Dr Watt, who had been based at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital for more than 20 years, is currently suspended from practicing medicine and it has been reported that he intends to retire on medical grounds.

Of the 2,953 patients recalled and assessed by reviewing clinicians, 617 (20.9%) were told their diagnosis was not secure, while 329 (11.1%) were told there was uncertainty over whether their diagnosis was secure.

The report said that 2,006 (68%) of patients had a diagnosis that was considered to be secure.

A Department of Health spokesperson stressed that "a diagnosis which is now considered to be 'not secure' does not automatically equate to a misdiagnosis".

"Similar proportions of these patients were considered to not have a proper management plan in place and had not received appropriate prescriptions," the spokesperson said.

The department said it had established "several independent routes of inquiry" to establish what happened to lead to the need for the recall.

"It is therefore important that we await the findings of these inquiries in order to ensure that all those who have been caught up in this situation have the opportunity to have their views heard in an objective manner," the spokesperson said.

"The department and Belfast Trust have apologised to affected patients and we would wish to reiterate and underline those apologies today.

"It is highly regrettable that one person should have to go through this experience, let alone the large numbers that have been involved."

SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon said it was disappointing patients had to wait so long for the report to be published.

She said patients were questioning why it was released around Christmas and in the midst of political negotiations.

“For far too long, patients whose lives have been turned upside down, have been left in the dark. The final release of this report today must mark the beginning of a new and improved approach in the way the Department of Health communicates with and informs patients and their families,” the North Belfast MLA said.

“While some of this information had already been reported on, this report will come as a shock to patients. The Department of Health and Belfast Trust must ensure that support is in place for these patients.”

The department said that it expects to publish a further outcomes report in early 2020 for a second group of recalled patients and announce if any further recall is required.

The second group of recalled patients covers specific groups seen by Dr Watt and subsequently discharged to the care of their GP.

In November Dr Watt offered "sincere sympathy" to the patients affected by the recall.

A BBC Spotlight investigation found that Dr Watt carried out hundreds of needless procedures on patients.

Police have met with Department of Health officials over the scandal and are investigating whether crimes may have been committed.

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