Northern Ireland

Dr Michael Watt: Update on patient recall postponed

doctor and patient Image copyright Getty Images/wutwhanfoto

"Unforeseen circumstances" mean a planned update about a recall of neurology patients has been postponed, according to a Department of Health letter seen by the BBC.

In 2018, about 3,500 patients were recalled as investigations were carried out into the work of neurology consultant Dr Michael Watt.

The recall came amid concerns over possible misdiagnoses.

An update was to be given to politicians and charities this week.

It was to have included an outcomes report for those who were reviewed in the first group of patients who were recalled by the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust.

In a letter sent to MLAs, the Department of Health permanent secretary Richard Pengelly said the briefing plans and publication of the report had be postponed to "unforeseen circumstances".

Mr Pengelly said the circumstances were of a "highly sensitive nature".

He added that because of that "precautions should be applied" to releasing more information about the patient recall "for the time being".

Mr Pengelly said his "overriding concern" was that vulnerable patients would be reviewed in "as timely a manner as possible" to ensure the best possible treatment.

He said he appreciated his reticence to provide an explanation about the circumstances "may cause distress to the patients and their families".

But he said: "They can be assured that this matter does not concern any new factors related to the review of their individual conditions."

The department has told the media that the postponement does not relate to the care or diagnosis of neurology patients and that every patient reviewed so far has been told of any changes to their diagnosis, care and treatment, as has their GP.

SDLP MLA Nichola Mallon said it was "disappointing" the department had cancelled the meeting planned for Wednesday.

"There is a need for openness and transparency when it comes to what was the biggest patient recall in its history by the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust," she added.

Sinn Féin's Pat Sheehan said the department's "excuse" for cancelling the meeting was "not good enough".

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