Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Neurology inquiry must begin as soon as possible

The fact that a review into the care of deceased patients of Belfast-based neurologist Dr Michael Watt announced a year ago has not even got off the ground follows an often repeated pattern
The fact that a review into the care of deceased patients of Belfast-based neurologist Dr Michael Watt announced a year ago has not even got off the ground follows an often repeated pattern

Editor's Viewpoint

The fact that a review into the care of deceased patients of Belfast-based neurologist Dr Michael Watt announced a year ago has not even got off the ground follows an often repeated pattern. It seems that every inquiry - not necessarily confined to health issues - take an inordinate amount of time either to be established, begin its work or report.

Inquests into deaths during the Troubles have yet to be held, in some circumstances decades after the killing of the victims, and criminal trials take lengthy periods to get to court.

In this case work is still ongoing to establish the terms of reference of the review and the members of the team to carry it out. Quite why such fundamental preparatory work should not have been undertaken already is puzzling.

The son of a woman who died in 2002 said he was told in June last year that the work of the review team would begin in September last but obviously that deadline has long passed. Since then an expected date for the review to begin has been shrouded in mystery.

The Department of Health, when contacted by this newspaper, said it could not comment on the matter. Considering that it was the Department who commissioned the review, that is unacceptable.

Some 3,500 patients of Dr Watt have been recalled following an independent review of patient notes and an independent review by the Royal College of Physicians.

It is entirely proper that any inquiry into patients, including those who have died, should be as thorough as possible and, as the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health Richard Pengelly said, that measures are taken to ensure public confidence in the safety of neurology services now and in the future.

The best way of doing that surely is to ensure that the RQIA begins its work as soon as possible and that all impediments to its inquiry are removed equally quickly.

What no one wants is for the issue to drag on unnecessarily and end up taking 14 years like the hyponatraemia inquiry into the deaths of five children in Northern Ireland hospitals.

Now that talks between the political parties aimed at restoring devolution have begun - albeit with little public optimism - it is exactly this sort of problem that demands the presence of a Health Minister who could insist on speedier action and a Health Committee to keep the pressure on.

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