News & Insights: Healthcare

Dr Watt – “A Catalogue of Missed Opportunities” – The Independent Neurology Inquiry Report

21 June 2022

The much anticipated Report of the Independent Neurology Inquiry Panel, led by Chairman, Mr Brett Lockhart QC, has been published today.

In a lengthy statement delivered at Law Society House to a number of the patients and families who have been directly impacted by the Neurology Patient Recall, Mr Lockhart emphasised that the remit or “Terms of Reference” of the Inquiry Panel was very much focused on governance issues arising within the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and the Inquiry was “fundamentally about the safety of patients”. The Inquiry identified “a catalogue of missed opportunities”. He further confirmed that the Inquiry Panel had concluded that:

  • Opportunities to investigate Dr Watt’s practice were missed on multiple occasions over several years, most notably in 2006-2007, 2012-2013 and in early 2016
  • Earlier intervention would have made a difference
  • The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust should have intervened in Dr Watt’s practice sooner than November 2016
  • There were also failures and additional missed opportunities by other Health and Social Care Trusts and by the independent sector, including The Ulster Independent Clinic, to report complaints and communicate concerns regarding Dr Watt’s practice to the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust
  • There was generally “a culture which discouraged escalation of concerns” and “When questions are not asked, patient safety is undermined”
  • The above inaction was to the significant detriment of patients
  • There must now be “Reform, change and transformation” in order to ensure that any other patient recall of such magnitude is avoided in the future

Mr Lockhart also referred to the voluntary erasure of Dr Watt from The General Medical Council Register and noted that he had previously publicly expressed his disquiet that as a result of this development, Dr Watt would not be required to attend a public hearing on the above issues.

Mr Lockhart again reiterated that the significant failings which have been identified were not restricted to the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and, in turn, the Inquiry Report contains 76 recommendations to The Department of Health, The General Medical Council, The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, other Health and Social Care Trusts and other organisations including the independent health sector.

O’Reilly Stewart welcomes the publication of the Independent Neurology Inquiry Report. It is very worrying to consider that of the 5448 patients recalled, approximately one in five had some failure in care. For the many patients we represent, the reported failures in care, have consumed years of their lives, have frustrated the proper diagnosis and treatment of their conditions and have caused untold upset and distress. The belated recognition of failures in management and governance which permitted  “a pattern of potential aberrant practice” to continue will be cold comfort to the many patients who were at the sharp end of deficient clinical care. Its not enough that mistakes are recognised, that apologies are offered, though these are important in their own right. It is vitally important that the lessons that have emerged are learned and implemented, to avoid similar circumstances happening again. Given recent experience, in Muckamore and in the Urology Services Inquiry, patients will legitimately inquire whether the will exists within Healthcare in Northern Ireland to address this governance deficit. Finally, patients seek accountability, individual and collective, where harm has been caused. Patient’s lives and the lives of their families have been up-ended, they deserve and expect redress.

To view the full Inquiry Report, click here:

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