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Update on Dr Michael Watt neurology recalls halted due to 'unforeseen circumstances'

Consultant neurologist Dr Michael Watt
Mairead Holland

AN update on the recall of neurology patients linked to investigations into the work of a Belfast-based consultant has been postponed due to "highly sensitive... unforeseen circumstances".

The Irish News has been seen a copy of a letter from Department of Health chief Richard Pengelly cancelling the briefing, which was to have taken place tomorrow.

In it, the permanent secretary says he considers "precautions should be applied to the release of further information... for the time being".

The department had been due to provide further information to political parties and charities on the work of Dr Michael Watt, a year after more than 2,500 of his patients were recalled.

This was to have included the number of patients misdiagnosed and given the wrong drugs.

Patients with a wide range of brain-related conditions, including multiple sclerosis, stroke and Parkinson's disease, were among those treated by Dr Watt.

The consultant was based at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast for 20 years but also saw patients in private clinics including the Ulster Independent Clinic.

Politicians have reacted with dismay to the development.

SDLP MLA Nichola Mallon said she has written to Mr Pengelly requesting an urgent meeting and a full explanation.

She said: “The outcome and scale of over-diagnosis and misdiagnosis is a matter of patient and public interest. It is very disappointing that more than a year after the recall process began, this information has still not been released.

"Patients and the public deserve openness and transparency. They deserve to know why this information cannot be released, as was planned on Wednesday."

Sinn Féin's Pat Sheehan has also requested a meeting and explanation.

The West Belfast MLA said: "These meetings have been vital for public representatives who have been supporting patients affected by the recall.

"The department's excuse for pulling the meeting due to unforeseen circumstances is not good enough."

The recall by the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust is the biggest ever undertaken in Northern Ireland.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said the postponement does not relate to the ongoing care or diagnosis of neurology patients.

"It is important to note that every patient reviewed to date has already been told of any changes to their diagnosis, care and treatment, as has their GP," she said.

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