Healthcare news

Leaked NHS memo reveals the treatment that sparked neurology probe

A letter was sent to patients awaiting blood patch treatment last November
Seanín Graham

LEAKED health service correspondence has revealed a controversial 'blood patch' treatment sparked the major probe into the work of Dr Michael Watt - but that "no concerns" were unearthed.

The internal memo, written by an employee at the Belfast health trust three months before an unprecedented patient recall was ordered, was last night criticised by a woman who suffered horrific seizures after the procedure was carried out by Dr Watt.

The patient said she was "never approached" by the trust or the professional body - the Royal College of Physicians - that reviewed the consultant neurologist's work about the apparent side effects she experienced.

The trust email was written in February this year in response to concerns about the patient's deteriorating condition following her epidural blood patch in the Royal Victoria Hospital in February 2016.

The treatment is used in cases of sustained and painful headaches. It involves taking blood from a patient's arm and injecting it into their spine.

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The NHS official wrote: "I am sorry to hear of (Ms X's) experience following her blood patch procedure. The Independent Review was initially prompted following concerns raised in relation to a number of patients being managed with blood patching. There have been no concerns raised to date regarding the outcome of these procedures."

The email came three months after patients awaiting the treatment received a letter from a senior medic in the Belfast trust alerting them to concerns about whether they actually required it.

Written by Dr Mark Mitchelson in November, 2017, it said: "Whilst there have been no reported incidents of patients coming to harm as a result of having an epidural blood patch, there may be an issue as to whether this treatment was required."

The letter prompted 'panic' among several patients, who approached SDLP north Belfast assembly member Nichola Mallon. She then contacted the Belfast trust on their behalf.

Ms Mallon, along with a number of other politicians, have been briefed by trust and departmental officials over the last month as to how they are handling the crisis.

The SDLP deputy leader last night told The Irish News she had "deep concerns" about when the trust first knew about problems around Dr Watt's care.

She met with trust officials last month on the issue.

"They insist they didn't know anything until they were alerted last December. However, when I showed senior trust officials a screenshot of patient notes which show that Dr Watt's treatment was being reassessed the previous April, there was alarm and the meeting was ended.

"I have given them opportunities to address why this second consultant was reassessing Dr Watt's blood patch patients. I've also asked who authorised it. There has been a wall of silence around this from the trust and the department."

The Irish News asked the Belfast trust and the Department of Health to comment on the concerns raised by the patient and Ms Mallon.

A trust spokeswoman said: "We are aware of the meeting you refer to and we plan to meet with the patient whose notes were raised by Ms Mallon on the patient's behalf."

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