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Viewpoint: Harsh truths from neurology inquiry

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Dr Michael Watt

Dr Michael Watt

Dr Michael Watt

Here we go again: ‘Lessons will be learned’, we are told. The inevitable question that follows is will they? Or will the dust settle on folders containing all the details of the Dr Watt scandal. Will they be filed away to gather more dust, and in a year’s time a new one opened as it all happens again?

That’s what the Department of Health must avoid, but the track record revealed in the Independent Neurology Inquiry, which considered the treatment of more than 5,000 patients of Dr Michael Watt, suggests an awful lot of work has to be done to address what it called “numerous failures”.

Red flags had been raised over many years. Opportunities to intervene were missed.

It’s a report that could have been written countless times before.

The Belfast Trust “could and should have intervened earlier but failed to do so”. And inaction has consequences. Avoidable and unnecessary harm.

It’s not just patients who had raised concerns. Fellow doctors had brought issues to the attention of the Trust.

And a clinical complaint by the General Medical Council “was essentially dismissed” as long ago as 2012.

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We all place our trust in doctors to look after our best interests. We need to be sure that trust is not being misplaced. They work in a field where even the smallest mistake can have the most serious of consequences.

And when an issue is raised, no matter how small it may seem at the time and no matter what pressure that may put on the doctor, there should be a duty to investigate.

Many will go no further, but no stone should be left unturned when it comes to looking after the welfare of the patient.

We have seen how damaging it can be when something slips through the net, then continues slipping through that net for years to come.

Too many people have been affected for this not to be taken with the utmost seriousness.

Not only is that a waste of time and resources in a profession where time and resources are running particularly short, it’s the effect it has on the patients recalled, the worry for them and their families, and the damage to trust which can often be unrepairable.

No doctor is perfect. We cannot expect them to be, they are human like the rest of us.

And while the report may make for “difficult reading” for Health Minister Robin Swann, it must be read.

There is some serious work to be done and it should have already started by now.


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