News & Insights: Healthcare

Neurology Inquiry – Dr Watt Will Not Give Evidence

27 July 2021

In what is the biggest patient recall in Northern Ireland, the consultant neurologist at the centre of allegations of poor care, Dr Michael Watt, will not be attending. This disclosure comes after an independent specialist concluded he is unfit to give evidence.
Three years have elapsed since the inquiry commenced, after approximately 3,000 of Dr Watt’s patients were recalled amid concerns of misdiagnosis of conditions, unnecessary invasive treatments and prescribing errors.
Given the scale and gravity attached to such an unprecedented review, the Inquiry Panel would have clearly expected Dr Watt’s input ahead of concluding matters. As such, a witness summons was served on Dr Watt in March 2021, and it would have been reasonable for the inquiry to anticipate the consultant would be their final witness.
However, it has since emerged that a medical report was subsequently forwarded to Dr Watt’s legal representatives in May 2021, indicating that Dr Watt was not medically fit to give evidence. The Inquiry Panel Chairman, Brett Lockhart Q.C. decided to seek an independent medical assessment in June 2021, which also concluded that Dr Watt was not medically fit to give evidence. In a press release dated 26th July 2021, Mr Lockhart advised they had “explored all reasonable options to facilitate Dr Watt’s involvement.”
This is extremely disappointing news for the patients affected by Dr Watt’s conduct. Allied to the decision by the Inquiry not to take evidence in public hearings, the failure by the concerned doctor to participate must surely undermine the capacity for the tribunal to get to the issues of concern and importance to those most directly affected by his alleged poor care. Whilst the focus of the Inquiry is on issues of governance, the lived experience of those directly affected by alleged failures in care should be at the heart of any inquiry and Dr Watt’s non-participation will mean that patients are denied an explanation of what happened, in public or otherwise. Given the scale of the alleged incompetence and neglect, that is in our opinion, highly unsatisfactory.

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