Belfast Telegraph

Over a fifth of Dr Watt's patients given different diagnosis since scandal

Dr Michael Watt
Dr Michael Watt
David Galloway
Lisa Smyth

By Lisa Smyth

A fifth of patients recalled in a neurology review have been given a different diagnosis from the one they received from consultant Dr Michael Watt.

The same percentage of patients did not have a proper management plan in place.

It is also now known that 545 people were getting the wrong treatment or medication.

The figures were released by the Department of Health on Thursday in a long-awaited report.

It looked at the results of a recall of patients under the active care of the suspended neurologist and who were subsequently reviewed by a different clinician.

These included Belfast Health Trust patients and other people who had paid to see Dr Watt at the Ulster Independent Clinic and Hillsborough Private Clinic.

The report did not go as far as to say whether any patients were misdiagnosed.

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Instead, it asked clinicians carrying out the recall appointments to record whether the diagnosis made by Dr Watt when the patient was last in his care was secure.

The doctors were also asked whether the patient was on the appropriate management plan and whether they believed the prescribing of drugs was appropriate.

They found that 2,006 out of 2,952 people had a secure diagnosis, while 617 did not have a secure diagnosis.

Paula Bradshaw
Paula Bradshaw

They recorded that they were uncertain whether the diagnosis was secure in 329, or 11%, of cases.

With regards to whether a proper management was in place, they said this was the case with 2,095 patients and that 599 patients were not managed properly.

They were uncertain about 258 patients.

The doctors recorded whether they believed that patients were on the correct medication in 2,911 cases.

They said 2,034 patients were prescribed the appropriate medication, while 545 people were not.

They were uncertain whether the prescribing was appropriate in the remaining 332 patients.

It is not known how the figures compare to average anomalies in neurology diagnoses and subsequent management plans and prescribing.

The Department of Health and the Belfast Trust last night were unable to provide this information.

David Galloway, director of the MS Society NI, said the figures were "staggering".

"The fact that reviewing consultants were uncertain on the diagnosis of 329 people and the diagnosis for 617 was insecure is a cause for great concern," he added.

"It raises many questions that now need to be answered.

"The many hundreds of people personally affected deserve those answers.

"The wider public needs to be reassured both that things have changed and that something like this can never happen again.

"Some of the affected patients have been left devastated by the recall and their subsequent change in diagnosis.

"They want to know how this was allowed to happen and why it was not addressed sooner.

"This report was delayed. RQIA reports are now due and the independent inquiry led by Brett Lockhart is not due to report until September next year.

"This is an ongoing saga which will not end soon for those affected patients and their families.

"This continues to be an emotional process for many of those affected. Some will require support.

"The timing of this publication is unfortunate in a week where that support may not be as complete as it otherwise would be. The Belfast Trust helpline remains open and I would encourage anyone who needs it to use it."

Concerns have also been raised over the timing of the publication of the report, coming less than a week before Christmas and on the same day as politicians met to discuss health priorities.

Alliance Party spokeswoman Paula Bradshaw MLA: "I welcome the publication of this outcomes report and am sure that the patients of Dr Watt and their families will also be relieved that the information about phase one of the neurology process is finally in the public domain.

"I think it is regrettable, however, that it has been released in the last few days before Christmas, both from a practical point of view and also in relation to the potential emotional impact its publication will have in what should be a celebratory season.

"We can see from the report that less than 70% of Dr Watt's patients who made their way through the recall had a secure diagnosis.

"While it is appreciated that many neurological conditions are difficult to diagnose, no one can be left in any doubt that change is needed in governance and performance management to ensure that systems are put in place (so) that patients can be assured that their diagnoses, treatment and care are correct for their condition.

"It is incumbent on the Department of Health and the health trust to continue to engage in the various inquiries and investigations that have been established from this recall process, to ensure that patient confidence is restored and that those working in neurology are supported and appropriately supervised."

SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon said it was disappointing that patients had to wait so long for the publication of the report.

She said affected patients had been asking why the Department of Health had released the report "in the midst of a negotiation process under intense media attention and in the mouth of Christmas".

She added: "For far too long, patients whose lives have been turned upside down have been left in the dark.

"The final release of this report 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."

Neurologists care for patients with a range of conditions, including motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and epilepsy.

Concerns have been raised over whether patients were unnecessarily subjected to invasive procedures and prescribed drugs with severe side effects.

The recall, the largest to ever be carried out in Northern Ireland, was announced in May 2018, but the Belfast Trust only apologised to affected patients in October of this year.

Police said they were still examining whether any criminal offences occurred in relation to the scandal.

Detective Superintendent Jason Murphy added: "The Department of Health has provided some initial material for the PSNI to consider but we await further material before being able to take an informed view and assess how best to move forward.

"It is likely that this will take some time."

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