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Public confidence being jeopardised by granting Belfast neurologist voluntary removal from medical register, High Court hears


Dr Michael Watt.

Dr Michael Watt.

Dr Michael Watt.

Public confidence is being jeopardised by terminating fitness to practice proceedings and granting a Belfast neurologist voluntary removal from the medical register, the High Court has heard.

Counsel for an oversight body also claimed it will be “neutered” if blocked from challenging a decision to accept the application by Dr Michael Watt.

In October last year, the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) allowed the former consultant at the Royal Victoria Hospital to be voluntarily erased from the register.

It meant the neurologist at the centre of Northern Ireland's biggest ever patient recall would not face a public hearing into concerns about his work.

Some of those treated by him have issued judicial review proceedings against the lawfulness of the move.

But in a separate intervention, the Professional Standards Authority is seeking to establish that it has jurisdiction to appeal against Dr Watt's removal.

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Peter Coll QC, representing the PSA, told the court: “The issues underlying all of this are matters of the utmost public interest.

“Not in the prurient sense, but in the purer sense… the duty on the state to protect the citizen.”

Contending that the Authority has no other legal options, he added: “If it doesn’t have jurisdiction to bring the statutory appeal, then it is neutered from being able to take on those issues.”

Mr Justice McAlinden was told the MPTS decision meant fitness to practice proceedings were ended without a finding being reached on any potential disciplinary sanction.

“The public confidence in this system is undoubtedly going to come into some jeopardy,” Mr Coll claimed.

“In circumstances where serious fitness to practice allegations, at a stage where they are to be heard by the Tribunal, the registrant is able to avoid that matter being seen through to a conclusion by way of the application for VE (voluntary erasure) being granted.”

Dr Watt’s barrister, David Dunlop QC, argued that the PSA has no legal right of appeal against the removal decision.

“The high passions that attach to this case could detract from the core academic analysis of what is very much a question of statutory construction,” he submitted.

“One of the dangers of the PSA’s approach is that it is seeking to persuade the court to drive a coach and horses through what is a very carefully devised scheme implemented by Parliament.”

Mr Dunlop added: “It has important implications, not only of course for the regulation of doctors, but the PSA is acting as a statutory oversight regulatory body and stands in a similar position across a number of other disciplinary regimes – dentists, opticians and others.”

The hearing continues.

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