Northern Ireland news

Legal challenge mounted by Dr Watt patients over misconduct hearing not going ahead

Consultant neurologist Dr Michael Watt
Seanín Graham

FORMER patients of Dr Michael Watt are mounting a legal challenge to a decision that prevented a full hearing into concerns about the consultant's work going ahead.

Belfast lawyer Claire McKeegan has confirmed she has been instructed by a group of "hugely concerned and distressed" individuals seeking legal action against the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) in England.

Earlier this month the MPTS granted an application by Dr Watt for "voluntary erasure" which allowed him to remove himself from the medical register - and stopped a full and open misconduct hearing from proceeding.

The consultant neurologist is at the centre of the biggest patient recall in Northern Ireland due to safety concerns about his clinical practice.

While a public inquiry is being led by Brett Lockhart QC into governance and leadership issues, the General Medical Council (GMC) was tasked with investigating Dr Watt's work.

The MPTS is separate from the GMC and conducts professional misconduct hearings.

Ms McKeegan, of Phoenix Law, last week wrote to the MPTS in Manchester on behalf of her clients, the 'Neurology Recall Patient Support group' and requested a copy its decisions "and reasons".

She told The Irish News she believes a hearing can proceed in Dr Watt's absence.

She said her clinets "are of the view that this decision taken by the MPTS is unlawful and hasn’t taken into account that its hearing was the only mechanism open" to have a public airing of Dr Watt’s clinical practice.

"These patients are hugely concerned and distressed at what has now resulted.

"Public confidence has clearly been sorely affected by this process...The hearing should have gone ahead in his absence.

"The Lockhart inquiry is about leadership and governance. The MPTS is only effective mechanism that could have looked at the allegations. Even if Dr Watt's his team has put forward some type of medical evidence that there is an issue around his fitness to participate, they still could have gone ahead administratively and looked at all the papers and come to a view.

"But instead what they’ve done is left this ‘vacuum’...and that can’t be right."

The development comes a week after a leaked letter revealed Mr Lockhart's "extreme disappointment" at the tribunal not proceeding.

In correspondence to patients, he wrote that his "understanding of the legal position" was that it could have taken place "in any event" - even if "Dr Watt was not in attendance".

Meanwhile, The Irish News asked the GMC if it had sought legal advice on the matter and whether it was considering a Judicial Review.

The organisation stated earlier this month that it had to no power to appeal Dr Watt's voluntary erasure from the medical register.

However, the GMC has now confirmed: "We are getting advice from leading counsel on our options to challenge the decision of the medical practitioner tribunal as we do not have a right of appeal."

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