More than 3,200 neurology patients to be seen again following independent review

Belfast Trust plans 2,800 additional appointment slots over 12-week period

 Stormont health department permanent secretary Richard Pengelly. Photograph: PA

Stormont health department permanent secretary Richard Pengelly. Photograph: PA


More than 3,200 neurology patients are to be seen again by doctors in Northern Ireland in what has been described as the most complex and challenging patient recall ever.

This comes following an independent review of work by consultant neurologist Dr Michael Watt. At a briefing on Friday led by chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride and Stormont health department permanent secretary Richard Pengelly it emerged the Belfast Trust has secured 2,800 additional appointment slots to deal with his patients.

Mr Pengelly acknowledged it was “an extremely distressing and trying time for patients and their families”. So far 281 patients have been reassessed, 1,960 are booked in for an appointment, and a few hundred others have yet to respond to attempts to reach them. A further 700 private patients will be assessed by the Hillsborough and Ulster Independent clinics. Mr Pengelly emphasised the department’s “sincere and profound thanks to all colleagues” involved in the recall, which it is hoped will be completed within 12 weeks.

The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) has been commissioned to review governance of outpatient clinics in the Belfast Trust, starting with neurology, and also Dr Watt’s deceased patients. The terms of reference for an independent inquiry led by barrister Brett Lockhart QC are being finalised, with a commitment to “openness and transparency” being key to the process, Mr Pengelly said.

International medical expert Dr Hugo Mascie-Taylor, currently executive medical director of the healthcare practice at Ernst & Young, has also been appointed as an inquiry panel member.

Dr McBride said these appointments were “a very clear sign of how seriously the department is treating this whole issue”. “It is always a very difficult time when the service falls short of the high standards rightly expected by the public,” he said. “It is essential that concerted action is taken and that lessons are learned for the benefit of patients.”

The recall will seek to address if diagnosis or treatment change is needed which could have “profound implications for patients”. A possible redress scheme, which would require sign-off by a minister, is being explored with a view to compensating patients who could be found to have suffered adverse impacts from inappropriate or incorrect diagnoses.

Dr McBride confirmed this exercise was “the most complex and challenging patient recall” there has ever been in the North. On the possibility that checks and balances may not be working in other areas of the health service, Dr McBride said processes are in place in line with the rest of the UK and it was important to ask the question if their are “gaps, deficiencies and vulnerabilities” that now need to be addressed. A regional co-ordination group is being set up taking in the entire health service and the independent sector, plus engagement with patient representative groups

He said the independent review will address if enhancements to the current arrangements need made.

Dr Michael Watt has yet to make any public comment on the recall. Earlier this month some of his former patients spoke out in support of him.