Northern Ireland

Dr Michael Watt patient recall hearing off until 2020

Doctor examining brain scan results Image copyright Getty Images/utah778
Image caption Thousands of Dr Michael Watt's patients have been re-examined due to concerns about possible misdiagnoses

A hearing into the actions of Dr Michael Watt, the consultant at the centre of Northern Ireland's biggest ever patient recall, will not happen until next year, the BBC understands.

The recall was sparked by concerns over possible misdiagnosis.

A preliminary hearing due to be held in June was adjourned.

Some charities and patients have voiced concerns at the pace of the investigations and the lack of information on developments.

The Medical Practitioners' Tribunal Service (MPTS) hearing was to examine the circumstances surrounding the recall of 3,500 of the neurologist's patients in May 2018.

Around the same time that it was adjourned, the Department of Health also cancelled the publication of an outcomes report during which charities, politicians and the media were to be updated on the condition of Dr Watt's patients.

The Irish News has reported that Dr Watt is to retire on medical grounds.

Image copyright Getty Images/fotostorm
Image caption Neurology is the treatment of brain conditions including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, stroke and motor neurone disease

It is understood the process for that to happen within the Belfast Health Trust has stepped up a gear, as retiring under these circumstances has always been an option open to Dr Watt.

Suspended on full pay

While thousands of patients have been re-examined, with some receiving a different diagnosis, little light has actually been shed by the authorities on what exactly is happening.

What we do know is that in January this year, Dr Watt was suspended from practising as a doctor in the UK by the MPTS, but remained on full pay.

It is unclear whether the GMC's investigation would still go ahead if Dr Watt retires on medical grounds.

When asked if that was a possibility, a GMC spokesperson told the BBC: "A doctor's decision to retire or leave their place of employment is separate to the GMC's processes and does not mean an investigation would come to an end."

That would suggest that a doctor could apply to leave the register, but that process is separate to their retirement and an investigation by the GMC could continue.

However, the BBC understands that in other cases where a person under investigation retired, the investigation ended.

'Public concern'

Meanwhile, the independent review established by the Department of Health in 2018 into the neurology recall continues. To date, it has not reported any findings.

At the time, the Department of Health's permanent secretary Richard Pengelly said he was conscious of the level of public interest and concern.

He said that a preliminary report would be produced as soon as practicable, with the final report issued on the completion and review of all other relevant actions initiated by the department.

The way things are proceeding, that independent review, chaired by Brett Lockhart QC and Dr Hugo Mascie-Taylor, might just be the only show left in town when it comes to examining what exactly happened behind Northern Ireland's biggest patient recall.

Sinn Féin health spokesperson Pat Sheehan said that patients were entitled to information and urged the Department of Health to keep them up to date at all stages.

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