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Payouts for patients of neurologist Dr Watt 'may be UK's biggest ever'

Dr Michael Watt

A compensation scheme for patients of Dr Michael Watt has the potential to be the largest such programme ever seen in the UK, it has been claimed.

However, patients caught up in the health scandal have been warned to expect lengthy waits before any money is paid out by health officials.

It comes after the first compensation case involving the suspended neurologist has been settled for £15,000. The money was paid to a former patient of Dr Watt, who spent three years believing he had Parkinson's disease after he was misdiagnosed by the consultant.

While the patient did not suffer any physical effects as a result of the misdiagnosis and wasn't prescribed any medication incorrectly, his mental health was impacted.

Kevin Hegarty, who represented the patient and who specialises in medical negligence cases at O'Reilly Stewart Solicitors, said: "The diagnosis adversely interfered with a number of aspects of our client's life.

"We obtained expert evidence from a consultant psychiatrist who commented on the psychiatric effect the misdiagnosis had on our client."

Parkinson's is a progressive neurological condition for which there is no cure and it can have a significant impact on quality of life.

Symptoms include tremor, muscle spasms and slowness of movement - over time these can affect everyday activities such as walking, talking, swallowing and eating.

Almost 3,000 former patients of Dr Watt have been recalled by the Belfast Trust amid concerns over their treatment.

An official report subsequently revealed one in five of those people had been given an insecure misdiagnosis.

The conditions for which they had been referred to Dr Watt included epilepsy, stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's and motor neurone disease.

While Mr Hegarty has secured a pay-out for his client, he stressed that he had seen Dr Watt in a private capacity and the compensation was paid by private indemnity providers for Dr Watt. The case was settled without admission of liability without the need for the case to go to court.

Mr Hegarty, who is representing around 50 former patients of the medic, said they have already obtained independent expert evidence critical of the medication regimes prescribed by Dr Watt.

He continued: "The majority of my clients are health service patients and they are likely to face a longer wait for compensation.

"The client who has had compensation wasn't part of the trust recall, they had seen Dr Watt privately.

"He began to think that maybe he didn't have Parkinson's and sought out another consultant.

"That seems to have happened in a lot of the cases in which we are involved - the person began to have concerns about the care they were receiving and sought a second opinion.

"In other cases, they went to another consultant after Dr Watt was suspended and they were left in limbo, without a consultant. That in itself is an issue that needs to be looked at.

"I expect it to be a considerable length of time before the Department of Health compensation scheme gets under way.

"Certainly, medical negligence cases are complex and require a fairly complex investigation that can ordinarily take between three and five years to resolve.

"I do think the neurology recall compensation scheme has the potential to be the largest in the UK, certainly I'm not aware of any others on a similar scale."

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "The Department continues to consider the best way forward in respect of redress and aims to reduce the time taken for payments to be made compared with the normal clinical negligence process."

Belfast Telegraph