Spinal jab by recall probe Belfast medic has left us in agony, say duo
Patients who underwent an epidural blood patch procedure at the hands of a suspended Belfast neurologist claim they have been left in "agony" and are urging others who believe they are experiencing side-effects to come forward.
Dr Michael Watt was stood down from clinical duties in June 2017. A large-scale recall affecting more than 2,500 NHS patients as well as private patients began last month after a Royal College of Physicians report raised concerns about his practice.
- Patients ‘deserve answers’ over the treatment that sparked investigation
- Health bosses refuse our requests for information
The General Medical Council has now imposed conditions on Dr Watt's use of epidural blood patching.
The therapy involves an injection of the patient's own blood near the dura, a sac that holds cerebro-spinal fluid.
It is used to treat conditions including those caused by a leak of spinal fluid, such as intracranial hypotension, with the aim of "plugging" the leak with clotted blood.
Belfast man Colin (58) says he underwent two blood patches administered by Dr Watt for a "hole" in his back, but was told at a recent review that he did not suffer from the condition.
"I'm in agony, and wish I had never met Dr Watt," he said.
"I saw him in October 2016 and he said I had a hole in my dura sac that was leaking spinal fluid and I needed the blood patches.
"He did the first one that day.
"I was in an awful state after it - falling down, passing out, feeling dizzy.
"My wife rang Dr Watt and he said it would get worse before it got better.
"I saw him three months later and he said he could give me another blood patch.
"I trusted him, as he was a doctor."
Colin said that the second blood patch was "absolute agony".
"I couldn't get out of bed for three weeks," he added.
"I was cutting vegetables, had a blackout and sliced my hand.
"My wife sent a WhatsApp message to Dr Watt, and again he said it would get worse before it got better."
Colin described his experience as "a nightmare".
"I heard nothing between last June and my review appointment recently, at which I was told there was nothing they could do.
"The neurologist said there was no hole in my back, and he wouldn't have recommended me for a blood patch.
"He couldn't answer when I asked why it had been performed.
"I am extremely angry, as I feel I have been left with long-term health problems after having a procedure I didn't need.
"I'm also worried other patients could be suffering, and would urge anyone with concerns to come forward."
Belfast woman Lyndsay Eccleston (34) received a blood patch from Dr Watt at the Royal in September 2016.
"Dr Watt thought I had spontaneous intercranial hypotension (SIH)," she recalled.
"An MRI didn't show SIH, but he still thought I had it and wanted to perform the blood patch.
"I have scoliosis (a twisted spine) and Dr Watt was trying for over an hour to get the needle in. I was in excruciating pain.
There was nowhere for the blood to go, and it was hitting the ceiling."
Afterwards, she says she began to suffer from numbness, visual disturbances, confusion and chest pains.
"It worked wonders for my chronic fatigue syndrome, but I had really severe back pain, which got worse," she said.
After seeking medical help several times, she saw Dr Watt again in May 2017.
"He put me on the list for another blood patch," she said.
A month later Dr Watt was suspended from clinical duties.
In November 2017, Ms Eccleston said she and other patients received a letter from the Belfast Trust regarding an investigation into blood patches.
She said an MRI scan last September showed cysts on her spine, and in April she spent three days in hospital with "sepsis and a burning pain in my spine".
She said she felt "abandoned" by the Belfast Trust.
"I had my review on May 5 and the doctor said it could be a hemiplegic migraine, but they don't last for months," she said.
"I'm worried about the harm the blood patch may have caused and I want answers." The Belfast Trust said it "accepts the anxiety and distress this recall has had on a large number of patients and their families".
It added: "We are unable to publicly discuss the detail of individual patients' care and treatment, however we recognise this is an anxious time and we are sorry Ms Eccleston and Colin have had this experience."
It said that the Department of Health will be "examining options for a potential redress scheme for patients found to have suffered adverse impacts from inappropriate or incorrect diagnoses".
"A final decision on redress arrangements will rest with ministers," it added.
"We are continuing to work extremely hard throughout this recall process to ensure that all patients who need to be reviewed are seen quickly and that their care and treatment plans are correct."
It said that it was encouraging anyone with concerns to contact the trust's advice line or their own GP.