Northern Ireland news

Misdiagnosis rates linked to Dr Watt to be announced - one year after patient recall

Consultant neurologist Dr Michael Watt is yet to speak publicly
Seanín Graham

THE number of patients who were misdiagnosed and given the wrong drugs by a consultant at the centre of Northern Ireland's biggest patient recall, is to be revealed in the next fortnight.

Department of Health chiefs are to publish a major probe into the work of neurologist Dr Michael Watt - a year after more than 2,500 of his patients were first recalled.

There has been severe criticism about the lack of information provided by the health service to affected patients, with many resorting to taking legal action to get answers.

Details about a proposed compensation scheme for those whose misdiagnosis may have "profound implications" - first outlined by department officials last May - have also been limited

The most senior civil servant at the department, permanent secretary Richard Pengelly, wrote to MLAs earlier this week to confirm that an "outcomes report" into the neurology recall is due to be released on June 26.

The report deals with the "active caseload" of Dr Watt's former patients - those who are still living but who may have received the wrong diagnosis and treatment plans.

A separate investigation into those who are now dead has been delayed.

Patients with a wide range of brain-related conditions - including Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's Disease and stroke - are among those who were treated by Dr Watt.

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

SDLP assembly member Nichola Mallon, who has been lobbying the Belfast trust and the department on behalf of dozens of patients, said the lack of communication with some patients had compounded their distress.

Ms Mallon said she had been made aware of several patients who had been given an incorrect diagnosis of epilepsy, with devastating consequences, after being prescribed the wrong drugs for several years.

"A lot of patients who had the wrong diagnosis and still have no idea of the harm caused by the drugs have told me they feel as if they're in limbo," she said.

"There has also been very little information from the department on its redress scheme, which raised the level of expectation.

"As a result, many patients feel they have no alternative but to seek legal advice when they cannot afford it. This is a matter of huge public interest and serious concern to patients."

The Belfast health trust have repeatedly refused to disclose the nature of the "safety concerns" that sparked the unprecedented recall on May 1 last year.

Dr Watt received an interim suspension from the General Medical Council in January this year, which temporarily restricted him from practising medicine in the NHS.

When asked by The Irish News to respond to patient concerns about information being relayed, a Belfast trust spokesman last night said:

"Whilst a small number of patients continue to undergo diagnostic tests, any of those invited for review as part of the recall...have been directly advised where there have been changes to their diagnosis, treatment plan or medication."

Department of Health officials yesterday confirmed that the outcomes report will include details on the number and percentage of patients whose previous diagnosis is "considered to be secure, not secure or uncertain".

When asked about the delay in rolling out a compensation scheme, a department spokeswoman said it had been "made clear from the outset" that a final decision "would ultimately rest with ministers".

She added: "The department has been examining and developing options for a potential redress scheme for those neurology patients whose treatment was reviewed by the Belfast trust who are found to have suffered adverse impacts from incorrect diagnoses or inappropriate treatment and care.

"The work has been informed by the experience of other schemes providing redress."

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