Northern Ireland

Dr Michael Watt: Suspended neurologist offers 'sympathy' to patients

Dr Michael Watt
Image caption Dr Michael Watt worked at the Royal Victoria Hospital as a neurologist

Suspended Belfast neurologist Michael Watt has offered his "sincere sympathy" to those affected by Northern Ireland's biggest patient recall.

Dr Michael Watt worked at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital as a neurologist diagnosing conditions like epilepsy and Parkinson's Disease.

He was suspended after 3,000 patients were given recall appointments last year.

Dr Watt said he recognised the "distress these events have caused".

It is Dr Watt's first public statement following the patient recall.

On Tuesday, a BBC Spotlight investigation found that he had carried out hundreds of unnecessary procedures on patients.

The programme also obtained details of a Department of Health report, as yet unpublished, that said one-in-five patients of the consultant neurologist were misdiagnosed.

The consultant neurologist had failed in a legal attempt to stop the broadcast of the programme.

On Thursday, court proceedings finished.

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Media captionDr Watt patient: 'We still have so many questions'

The BBC can now reveal that the consultant tried to prevent the Spotlight broadcast because of the effect he said it would have on his mental health.

As part of the injunction proceedings, the court was provided with evidence from a medical professional who summarised the views Dr Watt expressed during the course of a confidential medical consultation.

During this consultation, he stated that he had done his best and sought to act in the interests of his patients whilst handling a big caseload.

He also said this was against the backdrop of a shortage of neurologists and that he felt that he was being scapegoat and used as "a political football due to the upcoming election".

It also emerged during the case that Dr Watt is facing General Medical Council hearings in April and May next year.

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Media captionDr Michael Watt statement "deeply insulting"

In a statement sent to the BBC, after the ending of the court proceedings on Thursday, the consultant said: "Patient care has always been of the utmost importance to me and the key focus throughout my career.

"I have always sought to act in the best interests of my patients.

"Current investigations have highlighted concerns over the security of a number of my patients' diagnoses. I recognise the considerable distress these events have caused and I can only express my sincere sympathy to any of my patients affected as a result."

However, Danielle O'Neill, a former patient of Dr Watt's, told BBC Newsline that Dr Watt's statement did not go far enough.

"There has been no apology within that statement to patients who have been misdiagnosed," she said.

"He has expressed sympathy to those whose diagnosis has been unsecure.

"But there's been no admission of guilt to those patients who have been misdiagnosed, put through unnecessary procedures, nothing at all," she added.

'Outcome report'

The publication of a report into the outcome of the patient recall was due to be published by the Department of Health (DoH) in June but that was postponed.

As part of injunction proceedings the court heard that the report had been held back since June 2019 on account of representations on Dr Watt's behalf that its publication would have a detrimental effect on his mental health.

Image copyright Getty Images

Dr Watt's legal team said he was not party to the decision from the Department of Health to withhold this report but that "representations concerning this report were made by medical professionals charged with his care".

Concluding his statement following injunction proceedings, Dr Watt said: "Finally, I wish to make clear that whilst representations may have been made to the trust concerning the release of the Outcomes Report, I am unable to comment on the reason for the delay in its publication."

Following the neurologist's statement, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) called on the Department of Health to publish the report "without delay".

"There is absolutely no reason now why the Department of Health and the Belfast Trust cannot publish the Outcomes Report that it promised patients," said SDLP MLA Nichola Mallon.

"I have written to them and I have urged them to immediately publish it."

The Department of Health said it would keep its position on the publication of the report "under review".

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