Inquiry launched after recall of neurology patients

An independent inquiry has been launched into the recall of thousands of neurology patients in Northern Ireland.

Last week, Belfast Trust ordered the recall of 2,500 patients following a probe into the work of a consultant neurologist.

The move followed the year-long examination by the Royal College of Physicians of patient notes relating to the work of Dr Michael Watt.

Patients treated by Dr Watt in two private sector clinics in Northern Ireland are also to be reviewed.

The Department of Health commissioned inquiry into the Belfast Trust's handling of the controversy will be chaired by Brett Lockhart QC.

A panel led by Mr Lockhart will review the process initiated by the trust in December 2016 in relation to the concerns raised about the clinical practice of Dr Watt.

It will assess whether any complaints or concerns relating to Dr Watt prior to that date should have provided grounds for "earlier intervention".

The patients recalled by the trust were being treated for a wide range of neurological conditions, including epilepsy and MS, and are aged 14 and up.

The inquiry centres around the work of a neurologist (Geoff Pilkington/PA)
The inquiry centres around the work of a neurologist (Geoff Pilkington/PA)

Restrictions were placed on aspects of Dr Watt's practice after the issues were flagged to the trust.

He has not been seeing patients since June 2017.

Announcing the inquiry, Department of Health Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly said: "The focus since last week has rightly been on establishing a robust patient recall process.

"That remains the first priority.

"However, it is clear that a rigorous review is also required, given the seriousness of the situation and the impact on patients.

"The public needs to be assured that this issue has been properly and appropriately handled by the Trust, and that any lessons for the future are learned."

The department has also asked the Regulation Quality and Improvement Authority (RQIA) to examine the records of all patients seen by Dr Watt over the last decade.

The RQIA is also undertaking a review of governance of outpatient services in the Belfast Trust with a particular focus on neurology services.

The review will be rolled out across all five health and social care trusts in Northern Ireland.