Potential cases rising against patient recall scandal Dr Watt
Legal proceedings against the doctor at the centre of Northern Ireland's biggest ever patient recall are gathering pace.
Two Belfast law firms have said they are developing cases against Dr Michael Watt and his employer, the Belfast Trust, after it was reported he is due to retire from his post on medical grounds.
There are now concerns that Dr Watt may apply for voluntary erasure from the General Medical Council (GMC) register.
If such an application were to be approved, it would mean that the ongoing fitness to practice investigation into the allegations against Dr Watt would collapse.
A number of high level probes are under way at the moment, including an independent inquiry headed up by Brett Lockhart QC and a review being carried out by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA).
Dr Watt is also currently suspended from the GMC register and it has now emerged it is unlikely that the Medical Practitioner's Tribunal Service (MPTS) will hold a hearing into his case this year.
Clare McKeegan from Phoenix Law said the claims and delays in official investigations into the allegations that Dr Watt misdiagnosed patients are adding further distress to her clients.
"We have written to the GMC for confirmation that the investigation will indeed proceed as patients and their families must have - and deserve at the very least truth - answers to their questions and certainty going forward," she said.
Niall O'Hare, partner at O'Hare solicitors, and the head of the firm's medical negligence department, said: "We are investigating a number of potential medical actions against Dr Watt and the Belfast Trust in relation to a range of misdiagnosis for a variety of different conditions including multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson's and epilepsy.
"The possible early retirement of Dr Watt will not impact in any way on these claims.
"The suggestion that Dr Watt may voluntarily withdraw from GMC equally will have no bearing on the progress of these claims.
"At present we currently represent a significant number of clients in relation to medical negligence actions being pursued against Dr Watt and the Belfast Trust and we expect legal proceedings to be issued imminently and pursued vigorously through the courts in cases in which we have been instructed."
A number of different investigations into Dr Watt's work was announced by the Department of Health after concerns first came to public attention in May last year.
About 3,500 former patients of the neurologist have been recalled to assess whether they have received appropriate diagnoses and treatment.
It is understood that some patients have been subsequently informed they did not have conditions such as MS or epilepsy.
While former patients of the doctor have come forward to criticise their treatment, many others have spoken out in support of Dr Watt.
A group of patients held a rally outside the Royal Belfast Hospital calling for him to be reinstated after the allegations against him were made public.
However, no official findings have yet been released.
The RQIA is carrying out a number of pieces of work, including examining the day-to-day running of outpatient clinics and investigating the treatment of patients of Dr Watt who have since died.
It is believed the findings of the investigation into governance in the Belfast Trust could be handed over to the Department of Health by the end of the year.
However, it is not known whether the department will publish the findings at this stage or await the outcome of other probes.
Earlier this year, there was anger after a doctor criticised in the Hyponatraemia Inquiry was allowed to remove himself from the medical register.
Robert Quinn was successful in his application for voluntary erasure from the GMC register, a move which means he no longer faces professional misconduct proceedings.
Families of children from the inquiry have expressed their anger at the latest development, which came more than a year after the publication of the damning Hyponatraemia Inquiry report.
At the time, the GMC also said it was disappointed at the ruling by the MPTS.