Northern Ireland news

No-one will be shut out from series of challenges to Dr Michael Watt's voluntary removal from medical register

Danielle O'Neill, a former patient of Dr Michael Watt

NO-one will be shut out from a series of challenges to a Belfast neurologist's voluntary removal from the medical register, a High Court judge has pledged.

As Mr Justice McAlinden mapped out a route for dealing with all cases involving Dr Michael Watt, he stressed that former patients who have issued proceedings are to be involved throughout.

In October last year the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service granted Dr Watt's application for voluntary erasure from the register.

Its decision means the neurologist at the centre of Northern Ireland's biggest ever patient recall will not face a public hearing.

Consultant neurologist Dr Michael Watt

Some of those treated are attempting to judicially review the lawfulness of the move.

Danielle O'Neill (39) claims there was no jurisdiction for the move which breaches her human rights.

Michael McHugh (51) also alleges it was an unjust step, denying public scrutiny of the neurologist's work.

In a separate legal intervention, the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) is seeking to appeal Dr Watt's voluntary erasure.

At a review hearing on Thursday, Mr Justice McAlinden set out proposals for a series of determinations on the PSA's legal standing, jurisdictional issues, grounds of appeal and any further points raised by the patients' challenges.

"That would mean, potentially, four hearings or four knock-outs at some stage along the way," he explained.

Although his plans involve dealing with the PSA case first, the judge added: "It's essential that the legal teams for the applicants in the judicial reviews are present and are able to participate in that aspect of the hearing."

Full proceedings should begin next month.

Outside court Ms O'Neill, who is part of the Neurology Recall Patient Support Group, said: "We welcome the court's decision to include us in each step of these proceedings."

She also claimed any attempt to exclude former patients who suffered serious harm was "a further insult".

Her solicitor, Claire McKeegan, added: "It is important that these cases are decided with the utmost urgency."

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