Northern Ireland news

Political parties raise concerns around terms of reference for neurology recall inquiry

The inquiry will examine whether the Belfast health trust should have investigated earlier.

POLITICAL parties have come together to raise concerns around the terms of reference for the independent inquiry panel into a neurology recall.

The inquiry will examine whether the Belfast health trust should have investigated earlier.

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

The terms of reference for the inquiry were finalised last week, but the SDLP, Sinn Féin, Alliance, the UUP and DUP have joined forces to highlight concerns they have about the "absence of input being taken from elected representatives in drafting them."

They have written a joint letter to Permanent Secretary for Health Richard Pengelly to raise their issues.

Pat Sheehan, Sinn Féin's health spokesperson, said the parties have a number of concerns "particularly the absence of input being taken from elected representatives in drafting them".

"Further detail concerning the terms of reference, such as a clear time-scale for the completion of the inquiry, is needed for the chair in assessing how robust they are."

The parties have requested the permanent secretary facilitate a meeting with panel chair Brett Lockhart to discuss the issue.

The SDLP's Nichola Mallon first raised concerns with the Belfast trust last December after being contacted by former patients of Dr Watt who had undergone a controversial treatment known as an epidural blood patch. 

She has been scathing in her criticism of the trust's communication.

She represented a patient at a meeting with trust officials last month but said she has been met with a "wall of silence".

"We want to know who authorised Dr Watt's colleague to review his work prior to December 2016 and what prompted it. There's been no answers."

Meanwhile, a patient who was given a different diagnosis during the neurology recall has revealed she has not been contacted by the Belfast Health Trust in more than a month.

The woman was told at her recall appointment last month she does not have epilepsy, despite taking epilepsy medication for 15 years.

She said no-one from the trust has been in touch with her since her appointment over a month ago.

"My life was flipped upside down when I was 19 years of age and I gathered it back up again," she told the BBC.

"It's happened again. I was told that apparently I don't have epilepsy.

"Apparently I have non-epileptic seizures brought on by stress and I shouldn't be on the medication that I'm on."

The Belfast Health Trust told the BBC it is sorry the patient had this experience and would ensure she is contacted at the earliest opportunity.

Nichola Mallon has been scathing in her criticism of the trust's communication

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