Northern Ireland news

Dr Michael Watt: Consultant at centre of patient recall is suspended

Consultant neurologist Dr Michael Watt

A CONSULTANT at the centre of the biggest-ever patient recall in Northern Ireland has been suspended from practicing as a doctor in the UK.

Neurologist Dr Michael Watt, who was based at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital for 20 years, had been subject to certain conditions after "safety concerns" were raised about his work.

He has now been suspended by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) after his case was referred by the General Medical Council (GMC).

The suspension was imposed at a hearing on Thursday.

The Irish News first revealed in May that thousands of patients were being recalled by the Belfast Trust.

More than 3,000 of Dr Watt's patients were recalled last year.

Fears were expressed about misdiagnoses as well as treatment plans of patients with a wide range of brain-related conditions - including Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's Disease and stroke.

The recall came following an independent probe by the Royal College of Physicians.

Dr Watt treated thousands of patients within the health service. He also saw private patients at the Ulster Independent Clinic and Hillsborough Private Clinic.

A spokeswoman for the Belfast Trust said yesterday Dr Watt "remains restricted from all clinical duties". This means he cannot see any patients within the trust.

The GMC said it is continuing to investigate Dr Watt's case.

A GMC spokeswoman said the MPTS does not determine "the facts of what happened but undertakes a risk assessment of whether temporary protection is needed while a full investigation is carried out".

A series of investigations, including an independent inquiry led by barrister Brett Lockhart QC, have also been set up to probe the trust's handling of the recall.

SDLP MLA Nichola Mallon said the move showed the case was being taken seriously.

"This sanction reflects the severity of this case," she said.

"What we need now is to get to the truth of what happened and how it was allowed to happen."

Ms Mallon said one inquiry should be established to look at the case, alongside the GMC investigation.

"I have always argued that the investigations are spread too thinly," she said.

She added that patients were not being informed of the progress of the separate probes and said she had to "proactively" chase different bodies for information.

Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheehan said the sanction "illustrates the seriousness of the situation around the neurology recall".

"Patients and families will be concerned that the treatment and care provided didn't reach required standards and this development emphasizes the need for the independent panel inquiry to be as comprehensive and robust as possible so that the full depth of this scandal is known," he said.

"The Department of Health review of neurology services must guarantee that effective governance and oversight processes are put in place so that this is not allowed to happen again."

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