Healthcare news

Independent 'Dr Watt' probe makes more than 80 referrals to General Medical Council

Chair of the Independent Neurology Inquiry, Brett Lockhart QC (right) and Professor Hugo Mascie Taylor. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Seanín Graham

AN independent inquiry into the biggest patient recall in Northern Ireland has revealed there have been 84 referrals to the General Medical Council (GMC).

The inquiry team has also contacted the health watchdog and Belfast health trust after interviewing more than 120 people affected by the major investigation relating to the work of consultant neurologist Dr Michael Watt.

Chairman Brett Lockhart QC and co-panellist Professor Hugo Mascie-Taylor yesterday gave an update on their work a year after the scandal first broke and confirmed they had identified 167 issues which require "immediate action" but which were outside their powers.

They did however confirm they had contacted the GMC, which is the regulator for doctors, in relation to 84 'matters', while two referrals had been made to the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority and 81 to the Belfast trust.

The team were set up after after 2,500 former patients of Dr Watt were recalled due to "safety concerns" around his work.

Trust chiefs says they cannot comment on what triggered the review into the consultant's work due to "sensitive personal information".

The inquiry's terms of reference include the circumstances which led to the recall of patients in May 2018 and the Belfast trust's handling of complaints or concerns prior to November 2016.

Many patients affected - including those with neurological disorders, Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinsons Disease - say they have been "left in the dark" with little information about potential misdiagnosis or wrong drug treatment.

One north Belfast woman, who gave evidence to the inquiry last November, praised its support.

"The inquiry panel are the only people who have treated us as human beings and not just statistics," she said.

"In February the inquiry asked for my consent to make a referrral to the GMC and I agreed. I went from being a fit, healthy woman in my thirties to someone that was put on severe severe medication for five years that I didn't need to need to be on. I ended up using a mobility walker and wheelchair," she said.

In January, Dr Watt - who was based at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital for 20 years and also worked in two private clinics - was suspended from practising as a doctor in the UK.

Mr Lockhart and Professor Mascie-Taylor met yesterday with politicians to give an update.

They described their meetings with patients, doctors and administrators as "substantial" - with almost 40,000 pages of evidence submitted while the panel itself has met 70 times.

"There is much important work yet to be done and the panel has been and will continue to be proactive in sharing information and signposting to the relevant bodies and organisations issues raised directly with them, which do not fall within the remit of the inquiry, but which do require immediate attention," Mr Lockhart said.

SDLP assembly member Nichola Mallon, who has accompanied seven patients to give face-to-face evidence to the team, said the impact of delays in providing information was having a "traumatic" impact.

"While patients say the panel team have been supportive, there is serious concern that one year one there is no information from the Department of Health and Belfast trust on misdiagnosis rates," she said.

"People are pushed back and forth and I've seen a real deterioration in patients' mental health conditions."

Sinn Féin's Pat Sheehan, who attended yesterday's briefing, said he welcomed an opportunity to meet with the team but was also concerned about the prolonged nature of the probe.

"It could take another year for this inquiry to be completed and in the end it can only make recommendations while patients are continuing to look for answers," he said.

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