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Patients consult lawyers over Belfast trust recall concerns


Questions: Terri Mercer

Questions: Terri Mercer

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Questions: Terri Mercer

Some patients at the centre of Northern Ireland's biggest patient recall are taking legal advice after criticising the meetings with medical professionals.

The Belfast Telegraph understands a group of patients who support consultant neurologist Dr Michael Watt has sought counsel over how the recall has been handled by the Belfast Health Trust.

More than 2,500 patients are involved in the recall amid concerns over Dr Watt's treatment and diagnosis. The meetings started last Saturday, May 5, and follow a year-long examination by the Royal College of Physicians of patient notes relating to the work of Dr Watt.

But campaigners calling for his immediate reinstatement say they've already received feedback from some of those who have been recalled for case reviews. They said what they are being told calls into question the whole process.

The Belfast Telegraph understands a group of patients has already sought legal advice, with many who still place their trust in Dr Watt feeling severe anxiety over the process.

A former patient of Dr Watt, Terri Mercer, said: "This simply hasn't been handled well and I'm speaking to more and more former patients who have been left feeling distressed over the recall."

Ms Mercer (48), from Belfast, helped set up a Facebook page in support of Dr Watt and says more and more former patients are joining the campaign as awareness grows.

"We now have documented stories of former patients having to go through MRI scans and lumbar punctures at these recall meetings.

"Some of them are extremely distressed at having to go through the whole process again.

"What we need to know is how many patients do the trust say have been misdiagnosed?

"Why were patients of Dr Watt left without a neurologist for so many months?

"How many complaints were made about Dr Watt?

"From the reviews carried out to date, how many cases of misdiagnoses have been proven?" The patients recalled by the trust were being treated for a wide range of neurological conditions, including epilepsy and MS, and are aged 14 and up.

Restrictions were placed on aspects of Dr Watt's practice after the issues were flagged to the trust. He has not been seeing patients since June 2017.

Ms Mercer said she also had concerns over the cost of the recall. "We know many of those recalled have met with professionals from a private company, not NHS consultants," she said.

"I have evidence from patients who say they have been put through scans and tests despite saying they were satisfied with the treatment they received from Dr Watt, some of whom are seriously ill."

It has also emerged this week that some patients requested to attend recalls had their meetings cancelled at the last minute.

A Belfast Trust statement read: "Upon reviewing the schedule of appointments it became clear a small number of patients would need to be assessed by a specific neurologist specialising in the patient's particular condition.

"This is common practice during a recall of patients and we will continue to take steps to ensure all our patients receive the most appropriate care.

"Every effort has been taken to avoid any added anxiety or concern for patients during this recall and, whilst a small number are being asked to reschedule, the vast majority of our patients will attend their scheduled appointments as planned."

A petition in support of Dr Watt already has more than 500 signatures and will be handed in to The Belfast Trust.

Belfast Telegraph