Northern Ireland news

Decision to remove neurologist Dr Michael Watt from medical register to be challenged

Consultant neurologist Dr Michael Watt
Jonathan McCambridge, PA

A decision to allow the neurologist at the centre of Northern Ireland’s largest ever patient recall to be voluntarily removed from the medical register is to be challenged.

The Professional Standards Authority (PSA) said it has referred the matter to the High Court in Northern Ireland due to concern that the ruling on Dr Michael Watt is “not sufficient to protect the public”.

A number of separate inquiries into Dr Watt’s work are taking place after thousands of his patients were recalled in 2018 amid concerns about misdiagnosis of brain conditions.

Last month the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) said it had convened in private and approved an application by Dr Watt to be removed from the medical register ahead of a public hearing.

This means he can no longer practise medicine in the UK.

Dr Watt formerly worked at the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust.

Read More: Patients 'devastated' at Dr Michael Watt 'voluntary erasure' from medical register

The MPTS later published its ruling, which stated that Dr Watt is “unable to engage” with a public hearing into his fitness to practise.

During an appearance before MLAs on Stormont’s Health Committee earlier this month, officials from the General Medical Council said they believe the decision by the MPTS has had a “drastic effect” on trust and confidence in medical regulation in Northern Ireland.

The GMC also said it has no powers to appeal against the ruling.

But the PSA, which oversees medical regulators, has launched an appeal, citing concerns that the MPTS tribunal decision “failed to give sufficient weight to the public interest”.

A statement on the PSA website said: “The Professional Standards Authority has filed an appeal against the decision of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal of the General Medical Council granting voluntary erasure to Dr Michael Watt.

“The authority has referred the matter to the High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland due to its concern that the decision was not sufficient to protect the public.

“The authority is concerned that the decision of the tribunal erred in failing to give sufficient weight to the public interest in this case being considered at a fitness to practise hearing and that there were procedural errors in the panel’s approach.

“Accordingly, the authority is asking the court to quash the decision allowing voluntary erasure and replace it with an order refusing voluntary erasure.”

A GMC spokesman said: “We were extremely disappointed that the Medical Practitioners Tribunal allowed Michael Watt’s application for voluntary erasure.

“As we do not have powers to appeal the tribunal’s decision, we are very pleased that the Professional Standards Authority have decided to appeal using their own powers.

“We hope this will give reassurance and clarity to Michael Watt’s patients and their families.”

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