RVH doctor probe: I fear private patients like myself who were treated by consultant will be ignored
Patients of Dr Michael Watt have expressed their fears after a probe into the work of the consultant neurologist led to 2,500 people being called back for a review of their condition and care.
However, the scandal extends beyond the NHS, and one private patient of Dr Watt said last night that people in his position had been left in the dark as the crisis deepened.
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The man - whose treatment was funded by health insurer Bupa - was referred to Dr Watt by his GP in 2016 after complaining of numbness in his face.
Dr Watt saw private patients at the Hillsborough Private Clinic and at the Ulster Independent Clinic in south Belfast.
"He gave me a cursory check-over and said everything was fine," the man said.
"He didn't recommend any treatment.
"I went back to him a couple of months later and said I wasn't very happy, and he then recommended that I go for an MRI scan at Northern MRI in Belfast.
"Eventually Dr Watt came back to me to say he thought that what I had was actually an ENT (ear, nose and throat) issue, and I then saw an ENT specialist.
After news broke about the recall of 2,500 of Dr Watt's NHS patients, the Antrim man contacted the NHS helpline, fearing he could not rely on Dr Watt's diagnosis.
"They told me that because I was a private patient, there was nothing they could do to help me," he said.
"They didn't offer me any guidance, and when I suggested I contact the Ulster Independent Clinic they said: 'You could try that'."
The worried patient emailed the Ulster Clinic and explained he'd seen a consultant there in 2016, had heard the news about Dr Watt's NHS patients, and asked what he should do.
"But they didn't seem to have any plan in place. They just said to me they were awaiting a report, and as soon as they got it they would look at the findings, and if they feel that they need to do anything else they may or may not be in contact with me.
"I think that's absolutely scandalous. The 2,500 people recalled by the NHS will be seen eventually, but people like me who have seen him privately, we have nowhere to go to," he said.
"No one's going to pay any attention to us. At the very least the Ulster Clinic should have a plan in place as to what they are going to do.
"They know every private patient who saw Dr Watt.
"Why are they not actively contacting those patients, instead of relying on patients to phone them to find out information?"
A spokesperson for the clinic said that it had been made aware of the completion of the review into Dr Watt's clinical practice late on Monday evening.
"When this is made available to us we will immediately consider the report to fully understand the type and extent of the concerns raised," they said.
"Having considered the implications of the report, we will decide the most appropriate course of action to follow.
"We fully appreciate that details of this report may be very concerning for some of Dr Watt's patients and their families, and we would encourage anyone who wishes to discuss their specific concerns to contact us on a dedicated helpline.
"We have already received a number of calls regarding this matter and will endeavour to contact everyone as soon as possible.
"We would like to reassure all Dr Watt's patients, potentially impacted by this issue, that we are moving as quickly as possible to address any concerns they may have.
"We will also continue to liaise closely with the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust throughout this process to ensure appropriate sharing of information regarding Dr Watt's patients."
The clinic's dedicated helpline was made available from 9am yesterday on (028) 9068 6511.
NHS patient Stephen Wallace, from Magherafelt, said he was "not surprised" to learn that neurologist Dr Watt had been suspended and his patients recalled for review.
Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2002, Mr Wallace (49) had seen Dr Watt for more than a decade.
"When I heard all this about the recall of his patients, I thought: that's not really much of a shock," Mr Wallace said.
"He was a nice enough man, but he didn't seem to take MS that seriously.
"He was a very busy man. You were nearly always referred to nurses, who walked in and out and said: 'Oh Dr Watt's very busy, blah blah blah'.
"I was driving up from Magherafelt to the Royal Victoria in Belfast for appointments, and I always felt it was a waste of time.
"His attitude was: 'Stephen you've got MS. A bit of a bad day you're having.
"'I'll see you in six month's time'.
"That's really what it was. I always thought he was very flippant about it.
"I'm not a bit surprised at what's happened," the NI Water employee added.
"I'm not one for running down the medical profession, but the medical world sometimes think they are untouchable."
Hillsborough Private Clinic, where Dr Watt operated a private practice until last June, is also offering support to concerned patients.
A spokesperson said: "We have been advised that a review into Dr Watt's clinical practice at the Belfast Trust has been completed. We would like to assure our patients that staff will be available to take calls on telephone number (028) 9268 8899."
Belfast Trust has also set up a helpline on 0800 980 1100. Lines are open weekdays, 9am to 9pm, and weekends, 9am to 5pm.