Health Minister Robin Swann has announced two public inquiries into the neurology scandal and the work of a consultant urologist in the Southern Trust.
Addressing the Assembly on Tuesday, Mr Swann revealed there will be a public inquiry into the clinical practice of retired urologist Dr Aidan O’Brien.
And towards the end of his speech, he also told MLAs that he has upgraded the independent neurology inquiry to a public inquiry.
The decision to announce two public inquiries in the middle of a global pandemic is significant.
Public inquiries are major investigations — they are convened by a government minister and can be gifted special powers to compel testimony and the release of various forms of evidence.
The only justification required for a public inquiry is the existence of public concern about a particular event or set of events.
However, public inquiries are few and far between and historically only happen where there are suggestions of serious systemic failings.
They are complex, expensive and can take years to come to report their findings, so it is rare for one to be set up and quite unprecedented for two to be announced in one day.
Take Muckamore Abbey as an example. Allegations of abuse at the hospital on the outskirts of Antrim began to emerge in 2017 and harrowing accounts of abuse and neglect have consistently made headlines.
A PSNI probe is ongoing, with 15 people arrested to date.
In August 2019, the police officer leading the investigation said CCTV footage had revealed 1,500 crimes on one ward alone.
The families of former residents have repeatedly called for a public inquiry, determined to uncover exactly what happened at the hospital.
But it was only in September that Mr Swann announced he was setting up a public inquiry into the scandal.
Looking back, there have only been a handful of public inquiries into allegations of failings in the health service in recent years — the Hyponatraemia Inquiry and the CDifficile Inquiry.
Both looked at serious failures that resulted in the deaths of patients.
The Hyponatraemia Inquiry found evidence of a cover-up by health professionals over the avoidable death of nine-year-old Claire Roberts as it examined the treatment of children in local hospitals who died as a result of fluid mismanagement.
And the CDifficile Inquiry concluded that the superbug was linked to the deaths of 31 patients of the Northern Trust.
The damning findings of the inquiry, which heard evidence of a shortage of mops at Antrim Area Hospital, prompted the then-health minister Michael McGimpsey to apologise to those affected by the outbreaks.
While no-one can predict the outcome of a public inquiry into the treatment of Dr Aidan O’Brien’s patients, it is clear the concerns are significant enough to warrant the treatment that comes with such an investigation.
Certainly, former patients of the retired consultant urologist are entitled to answers, while it is essential that the general public is offered reassurance.
However, former patients of Dr Watt are just as entitled to know the truth about their treatment. Mr Swann must surely have been aware of this as he made the decision for a public inquiry into Dr O’Brien’s clinical practice.
This undoubtedly played a role in the decision to announce a public inquiry into the neurology scandal too.