Northern Ireland news

Independent probe into Dr Watt neurology scandal at 'critical stage' as 30,000 new pages of evidence supplied

Independent Neurology Inquiry chairman Brett Lockhart QC and his co-chair Professor Hugo Mascie Taylor have spent two years on the major probe, which has included extensive interviews with patients and health professionals. Picture by Hugh Russell
Seanín Graham

MORE than 30,000 pages of new evidence have been sent to an independent investigation set up two years ago to probe the neurology recall scandal.

The inquiry stopped doing face-to-face interviews during the Covid pandemic but these have resumed in the past fortnight.

The Irish News has learned that 193 witnesses, including Belfast trust neurologists, nurses and former patients of Dr Michael Watt, have given evidence.

It is understood Dr Watt has not come forward.

More than 150 former patients have supplied written evidence while almost 35 spoke in interviews with the inquiry chair, Brett Lockhart QC and co-chair, Professor Hugo Mascie-Taylor.

Many have said the independent probe is the only vehicle that has given them "a voice".

The vast number of new documents - amounting to 30,000 emails detailing new information - were sent to the inquiry by the Belfast trust during lockdown.

Sinn Féin health committee member Pat Sheehan, who has lobbied of behalf of neurology patients severely affected by their experience, including one woman who now is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, questioned the emergence of trust material "at this late stage".

"There needs to be greater transparency around this scandal which, due to Covid, we've heard little about over the past six months. We need to start getting answers soon to the questions that patients are asking," he said.

"I'm surprised it has taken almost two years to access the information of this scale and in the health committee last week I asked for Brett Lockhart to be invited here, we'll hopefully get information soon."

In a statement, the inquiry team said they were now at a "sensitive and critical stage in the consideration of its Terms of Reference".

And they said that despite lockdown, extensive work had continued.

"A number of witnesses which were scheduled to give evidence during the period of lockdown were postponed. This time has been used productively by the Inquiry to consider the evidence which has been received to date, to include over 30,000 pages of evidence in recent weeks, and to draft chapters of the report. The Inquiry is in the process of rescheduling witnesses for the weeks and months ahead."

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