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Editorial: Health service must show lessons being learned

Dr Michael Watt was at the centre of Northern Ireland’s largest ever recall of patients

"MICHAEL Watt failed us, the Belfast Trust failed us, the Department of Health failed us, the GMC failed every single patient caught up in this scandal."

The words of Danielle O'Neill, a former patient of Dr Watt, summed up the anger of many yesterday as the damning report of an inquiry was published.

Ms O'Neill unnecessarily underwent an invasive medical procedure and was prescribed the wrong drugs for years after being treated by the consultant neurologist.

She was among thousands of former patients invited to have their cases re-examined for possible misdiagnosis in Northern Ireland's largest ever patient recall.

About a fifth received the devastating news that they had not been given an appropriate management plan for their condition, while a similar number had not been issued appropriate medication.

Many are now living with the consequences.

The Independent Neurology Inquiry yesterday set out how "numerous failures" ensured a problem with an individual doctor's practice was missed for many years.

The Belfast Health Trust failed to intervene before a GP raised concerns in 2016, with the report highlighting missed opportunities as far back as 2006 and criticising the complaints system.

This was compounded by an "inadequate investigation" by the GMC (General Medical Council) and the "failure to disclose significant complaints" by the Ulster Independent Clinic, alongside shortcomings by other health and social care trusts to identify or communicate concerns.

Essentially, systems in place to assure the public in respect of patient safety failed, while communications both within and between organisations broke down.

Medical professionals were also found to be "apprehensive in raising a concern about the practice of a colleague".

The inquiry made 76 recommendations, with a view to ensuring the healthcare system "makes patients safety its paramount concern".

However, this is not the first report to expose serious failings in the health service.

A public inquiry is also underway in relation to concerns about the practice of a urology consultant, while separate hearings are taking place into shocking abuse of vulnerable adults at Muckamore Abbey Hospital.

At an individual level, the impact on those who put themselves in the hands of the health service and suffered harm represents a gross breach of trust.

The cumulative damage to the reputation of the NHS has also been serious and it is vital that patients now see in both word and deed that lessons really are being learned.

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