Northern Ireland news

Belfast Trust recalls 2,500 neurology patients following review of consultant's work

The Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast sees neurology patients from across Northern Ireland
Seanín Graham

A RECALL of 2,500 patients has been announced today by Northern Ireland's biggest health trust following a probe into a consultant neurologist's work.

The Belfast health trust has confirmed it has received a report it ordered into the clinical practice of Dr Michael Watt.

A patient helpline has also been established and the number is 0800 980 1100.

The trust said doctors had raised concerns in relation to the "care and treatment provided by Dr Michael Watt to a small number of patients" which prompted an internal review plus a further review carried out by the Royal College of Physicians.

While the trust had initially refused to comment on the speciality involved, the Irish News learned it was neurology, which is linked to the treatment of brain-related conditions.

The highly experienced consultant neurologist is not currently working at the trust's hospitals - which include the Royal Victoria, where patients from across the north are sent for specialist care.

Dr Mark Mitchelson, Medical Chair of Division, apologised to patients and their families for the "anxiety" caused and said the trust intended to see all recalled patients within 12 weeks and had established additional clinics.

"Other doctors raised concerns with the trust regarding the care and treatment provided by Dr Michael Watt to a small number of patients.

"As a result of our own review and a further review carried out by the Royal College of Physicians, we would like to invite a number of his patients back for a review appointment to assure them, their families, and ourselves that they are receiving the best treatment.

"The recall of such a large number of patients is so that we can be confident and thorough in ensuring that patients are having the best possible care.

"To ensure patients are seen as quickly as possible we have set up a large number of additional clinics and we intend to see all patients within the next twelve weeks. Again, we are truly sorry for the anxiety this will cause.”

The Belfast Trust said it has contacted every patient it would like to review and is asking patients to make contact so that an appointment can be made.

Sources last night told the Irish News that trust staff had been drafted in over the weekend to set up a dedicated helpline and issue letters to a large number of his patients.

A spokeswoman for the trust had confirmed it had "recently received" a report from the Royal College of Physicians "regarding a consultant's practice"

"We are considering it carefully with a view to taking any appropriate action in the next few days," she said.

She confirmed an announcement would be made today but would not comment any further on the creation of a helpline or the number of patients affected.

The Irish News has learned that Belfast trust chiefs approached the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), which is a professional body for doctors, to carry out an investigation known as an "Invited Service Review" into Dr Michael Watt's work.

Medical directors or chief executives of healthcare organisations can request the probes from the Royal College when they feel the "practice of clinical medicine is compromised and there are concerns over patient safety", according to the RCP website.

Patricia Gordon is the director of MS Society Northern Ireland and said Dr Watt had treated MS patients.

"While we are deeply concerned about the announcement, we are pleased that a helpline has been established and that the trust has committed to provide review appointments within 12 weeks," she said.

The last major health scandal that led to a patient recall at the trust was the case of the dentist Professor Philip Lamey in 2011.

More than 130 of his patients were recalled when 35 of them developed cancer. Four of them died.

The former consultant at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital's School of Dentistry, who was also a tutor at Queen's University dental school, was struck off in 2014 and found guilty of more than 100 charges of malpractice.

In 2015, he appealed the striking-off decision by the General Dental Council (GDC) and it was quashed and substituted with a six-month suspension.

A further review concluded that subject to very strict conditions the dentist could return to work.

Professor Lamey lost an unfair dismissal case against Queen's the previous year.

The patient helpline number is 0800 980 1100. You can call between 9am and 9pm Monday to Friday and from 9am to 5pm on Saturday and Sunday.


Lengthy waiting lists in Northern Ireland

NEUROLOGICAL disorders are diseases of the brain, spine and the nerves that connect them.

There are more than 600 diseases of the nervous system, such as brain tumors, epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, motor neurone disease and stroke, as well as less familiar ones such as frontotemporal dementia.

Neurological conditions result from damage to the brain, spinal column or peripheral nerves. Some are life threatening, with many severely affecting an individual's quality of life.

Long-term neurological conditions carry a significant burden to the individual, their families and carers.

Consultant waiting lists in Northern Ireland are lengthy, with delays of up to three to four years for an outpatient appointment.

Neurology conditions are broadly divided into: sudden onset conditions (such as acquired brain injury or spinal cord injury), unpredictable conditions (epilepsy, ME, certain types of headache, or the early stages of multiple sclerosis), progressive conditions (motor neurone disease, Parkinson's disease, or later stages of multiple sclerosis), and stable neurological conditions (post-polio syndromeor cerebral palsy in adults).

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