“My mum was my inspiration,” says Patricia Crook. “Mum was a hairdresser, she owned her own salon, she was the funkiest lady in the world, great spirit, could chat to anybody.”
The moment she walked into Michael Watt’s office “was the beginning of the end”, says her daughter.
Maureen Grogan died in 2018 aged 73, some 11 years after she began receiving treatment from the then Dr Watt.
A consultant neurologist at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, he had a large private practice and was regarded as the “top man” in his field. Ms Grogan was referred to him suffering from a “slight numbness down her arm” after slipping on ice and breaking two bones in her back.
“With what can only be described as a sobriety test [as] in America, he didn’t even get her to walk up and down; it was hand-to-eye co-ordination,” said Ms Crook, and the doctor told her: “You have Parkinson’s.”
“And my mum, who was a very clever woman, her reply to him was: ‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ and his reply back: ‘Indeed you do, Madam.’ That was it. She was then on the treadmill of him.”
In 2018, the former consultant was at the centre of the largest ever recall of patients in Northern Ireland after a whistleblower raised concerns.
More than 5,000 people under his care were reassessed. Ms Grogan was among the patients recalled, but died before she could be re-examined.
“He stole her 11 years, and you could see the decline. She was such a vivacious, wonderful woman, and he chipped away at her,” her daughter says.
“One of the medications he gave her is not supposed to be given to anybody with breathing difficulties. My mum developed COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease], I think because of the medication . . . she went to 24 hours a day oxygen, and that’s what eventually killed her, and it was so quick, it wasn’t normal.”
Mr Watt has since been the subject of two damning investigations into his practice and has been struck off the medical register.
An independent inquiry into his work, reporting in 2022, investigated misdiagnoses of conditions, incorrect prescribing of medication and unnecessary invasive procedures. It concluded there had been a “catalogue of missed opportunities” by the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust to act on concerns.
A review by the Royal College of Physicians, also in 2022, examined the medical records of 44 deceased patients and found “significant” failings and concerns which led to “deep human impacts and resulting harm”, and in five cases questioned the certified cause of death.
This week, the Police Service of Northern Ireland announced a major investigation into his clinical practices and appealed for former patients or their relatives to report any concerns to them.
Ms Grogan’s daughters had already gone to the police. Ms Crook said she was aware of “about 20″ who have done so, and wants other former patients, or their relatives, to do the same.
“I’m very much hoping that the floodgates will open,” she says. “I would absolutely appeal to people to come forward because this man cannot get away with what he’s done, he just can’t,” she said.
Figures obtained via a Freedom of Information request by a relative of another deceased patient show that over a 10-year period to 2018, about 2 per cent of everyone who died in Northern Ireland was one of Mr Watt’s NHS patients.
This does not include private patients, making it likely that the actual figure is even higher, which “suggests a high excess mortality rate” among patients seen by the former doctor, the relative says.
She feels there needs to be a “sea-change” in society’s attitudes about doctors being regarded as “elevated” or being “set apart as being elite” which she believes “results in a man like him because he thought he was untouchable”.
Five years on from her mother’s death, she says what happened is “always beneath the surface” and will always be that way until Mr Watt is held to account.
“I want him to know that I’m not letting it go,” she said.
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