Almost a fifth of recalled patients of neurologist Dr Michael Watt received ‘insecure diagnosis’

Almost a fifth of patients who attended recall appointments amid concerns about the work of a Belfast-based neurologist had received an “insecure diagnosis”, a review has found.

By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
Thursday, 9th June 2022, 5:44 pm
Updated Thursday, 9th June 2022, 5:50 pm

Dr Michael Watt was at the centre of Northern Ireland’s largest ever recall of patients, which began in 2018, after concerns were raised about his clinical work.

More than 4,000 of his former patients attended recall appointments.

In a written statement to the Assembly, Health Minister Robin Swann outlined the findings of a review of the recall of a third cohort of Dr Watt’s former patients.

The neurologist Dr Michael Watt

Mr Swann said the third cohort marked the completion of the final recall of patients who had been under the care of Dr Watt.

The minister said 768 patients were included in the third cohort and 602 of them were invited to attend recall appointments, and 495 did so.

An outcomes report shows 380 had a diagnosis that was considered to be secure and 87 had a diagnosis that was considered not secure. For 28 patients, there was uncertainty in respect of whether the previous diagnosis was secure.

Across the entirety of the neurology recall, the total number of people eligible for recall was 5,448, of which 4,179 attended appointments.

Mr Swann said the combined average percentage of people across the three cohorts whose diagnosis was considered not secure at the time of their recall appointment was 19%.

He said: “Although the reports published today are statistical in nature, it is important to highlight and acknowledge the patients and families these figures represent, and the exceptionally difficult and frustrating circumstances which they have experienced.

“I again wish to apologise unreservedly for the hurt caused to neurology recall patients and families affected by these matters, and I would like to reiterate my thanks and appreciation to them for their co-operation and patience during this process.

“The publication of the Cohort 3 Activity and Outcomes Report and the Neurology Recall Summary Report is a significant milestone following the announcement of the initial recall of patients in May 2018.

“However, I appreciate that this does not offset the stress and anxiety caused to the patients and families affected.

“With this in mind, I do hope that the completion of the neurology recall provides assurance that no further recall is required.”

Mr Swann also said that work has been undertaken by his department to find a way forward on a compensation scheme for patients.

He said: “Neurology recall cases are very complex in nature and every claimant should be entitled to receive the compensation they deserve.

“It is only fair that each case is considered on its own merit and that claims are progressed as quickly as possible to provide claimants with compensation, in all appropriate cases.

“A streamlined pathway has been developed to deliver this. This includes the potential to instruct a joint expert to provide a joint medical report at no expense to eligible claimants.

“This innovative approach is supported by a set of guiding principles to ensure eligible cases are progressed as quickly as possible.

“Guidance is also being developed for neurology recall patients and families to support a clearer understanding of the claims process which will include advice on the streamlined claims process.”

Mr Swann said a dedicated neurology recall legal team is now in place with the aim of progressing claims at pace.

A number of separate inquiries have been taking place into the work of Dr Watt, who formerly worked for Belfast Health and Social Care Trust at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

Last year, he was allowed to voluntarily leave the medical register before a General Medical Council hearing could be carried out into his actions.

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