Independent team hears first-hand accounts of neurology patients caught up in massive recall
MORE than 20,000 pages of evidence are being probed by the independent team investigating Northern Ireland's biggest patient recall with dozens of witnesses still to give statements, it emerged yesterday.
A cross-party briefing of assembly members heard that almost 50 people affected by the neurology recall scandal have given accounts of their experience to the inquiry panel since it began its work last autumn. A further 60 people are to come forward.
Former patients of the consultant neurologist at the heart of the scandal, Dr Michael Watt, have given face-to-face accounts to the panel and as well as some health professionals including GPs.
Around 160 written responses have also been sent to inquiry chair, Brett Lockhart QC, and his co-panellist Professor Hugo Mascie-Taylor, after questionnaires were sent out in October to affected patients in the greater Belfast area.
Last May, it emerged that "safety concerns" around Dr Watt's work sparked an unprecedented recall of thousands of his patients in the NHS and private sector. To date, more than 3,000 patients have been contacted to be re-assessed.
Earlier this month, Dr Watt - who was based at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital for 20 years -was suspended from practising as a doctor in the UK.
There has been severe criticism of the "secrecy" surrounding the reasons for the recall, with many patients criticising the Belfast trust's handling of the crisis.
Trust chiefs have said they cannot comment on what triggered the review into Dr Watt's work due to "sensitive personal information".
One former patient who gave evidence to the panel last November said she has been left "psychologically damaged" by her experience.
"I discovered that I had been on severe medication for five years that I didn't need to need to be on. I was a fit, healthy woman in my thirties and I ended up using a mobility walker and wheelchair," she said.
"I am now off all the drugs prescribed by Dr Watt but I do not know what damage has been caused. Mentally I am not the same person. We have been given so little information by the trust, I feel as I am in limbo. It is consuming me."
SDLP assembly member Nichola Mallon, who has accompanied seven patients to give evidence to the panel in recent months, commended the team yesterday for giving patients a voice.
"Patients still feel as if they're being kept in the dark due to the lack of communication by the Belfast trust so it was reassuring this panel is listening to them," she said.
"As the only investigation into this scandal which has given a platform to patients, this is critically important."
Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheenhan also said he was struck by the "genuine openness" of the panel to engage by those affected.
However, he pointed to concerns raised about some health professionals who did not wish to give evidence.
"They told us the inquiry was going to take longer than they had initially thought due to the complexity of evidence," he said.
"Their remit is to look at how the whole system managed and responded to this crisis."