Northern Ireland news

Dr Michael Watt: Consultant linked to massive patient recall to 'retire on medical grounds'

Consultant neurologist Dr Michael Watt
Seanín Graham

A DOCTOR at the centre of the biggest patient recall in Northern Ireland is to retire on medical grounds, it has emerged.

Dr Michael Watt, a consultant neurologist in the Belfast health trust, was "restricted" from seeing patients in June 2017 - a year before it was revealed 2,500 former patients were being re-assessed during to "safety concerns" about his work.

Based at the Royal Victoria hospital in the city for 20 years, Dr Watt remained on full pay since the restrictions and was not suspended by his employer.

He also saw thousands of private patients at the Ulster Independent Clinic and Hillborough Clinic.

In January this year, Dr Watt was temporarily suspended from practising as a doctor in the UK by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) after his case was referred by the General Medical Council (GMC).

An investigation by the GMC remains ongoing though no updates as to the next review hearing were available yesterday.

Read More: Dr Michael Watt 'cost me my job, my home and my marriage'

The Irish News has learned however that processes are now in place within the trust's human resources department for Dr Watt's retirement.

When asked to confirm his current position and if he remains on full pay, a spokesman for the trust said: “The Belfast Trust can confirm that Dr Michael Watt is an employee of the Trust and continues to be restricted from all clinical duties; he is not seeing patients.

"Any concerns regarding the conduct, clinical performance or health of a doctor are managed within the relevant Trust and Department of Health procedures. The Trust is unable to make any further comment at this time as to do so would be in breach of its obligations under data protection.”

The development comes two months after the Department of Health cancelled the publication of an "outcomes report" into the number of patients who were misdiagnosed and given the wrong drugs by Dr Watt.

Department chiefs attributed the postponement of the the much anticipated review to "highly sensitive... unforeseen circumstances", with Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly saying he considered "precautions should be applied to the release of further information... for the time being".

SDLP Assembly member for north Belfast, Nichola Mallon, who has lobbied the health trust on behalf of multiple patients affected by the scandal, criticised the ongoing "secrecy" surrounding it and the lack of information provided by the authorities.

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.

Dr Watt saw patients from across the north with a wide range of brain-related conditions including Multiple Sclerosis, epilepsy, stroke and Parkinson's disease.

Ms Mallon said she was aware of "speculation" surrounding Dr Watt's retirement on medical grounds and questioned whether it would have "any impact" on the multiple ongoing reviews in his work.

"The thousands of patients at the heart of this scandal need to know if this speculation is correct and they will have questions and concerns about the timing .

"More than a year on, patients and families are still waiting for the truth about what happened, why it happened and how it was ever allowed to happen."

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