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Neurology inquiry panel terms of reference published

An inquiry panel will examine how the Belfast health trust handled complaints about Dr Michael Watt

AN inquiry into a neurology recall scandal will examine whether the Belfast health trust should have investigated earlier.

The terms of reference were yesterday finalised for an independent inquiry panel looking at a patient recall.

The trust announced last month it was recalling 2,500 of consultant neurologist Dr Michael Watt's patients for reassessments after an expert review found safety concerns around his diagnosis and treatment plans.

A fortnight after the scandal emerged, Department of Health officials originally estimated around 700 private patients at the Ulster Independent Clinic and Hillborough clinic were to be re-tested.

However, a spokesman for the Ulster Independent Clinic has now confirmed it expects that fewer than 150 of its patients will need to be re-assessed.

Dr Watt, who was based at Royal Victoria hospital for the past 20 years, was restricted from seeing patients last summer but was not suspended.

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The inquiry panel comprises Brett Lockhart QC and Dr Hugo Mascie-Taylor.

It will look at the circumstances leading to the recall and evaluate the trust's corporate governance procedures. This specifically includes the communication and escalation of the reporting of issues related to potential concerns about patient safety.

Politicians including SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon - who first raised concerns about Dr Watt last year - have been scathing in their criticism of the trust's communication.

She welcomed yesterday's development and said it was important to have "openness and transparency about what exactly happened and what changes are required to prevent the possibility of this happening again".

The panel will also review the trust's handling of relevant complaints, identified or received before November 2016.

It will determine whether there were any related concerns or circumstances which should have alerted it "to instigate an earlier and more thorough investigation".

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