Patients who have seen Dr Michael Watt for epilepsy or multiple sclerosis care to be reviewed to ensure they have the correct diagnosis and treatment
An NHS trust has apologised to patients after it was forced to recall 2,500 patients for a review of their condition and care, amid concerns about misdiagnosis by a senior neurologist.
Patients who were seen by consultant Dr Michael Watt were contacted by the Belfast Trust in Northern Ireland after other doctors raised concerns about the care he was giving.
Some as young as 14 are among those recalled and will have seen Dr Watt for a wide range of neurological conditions including epilepsy, motor neurone disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis (MS).
The trust said some of Dr Watt’s patients would have serious and debilitating conditions and the review is the best way to guarantee they’re getting the right care.
While it only has serious concerns about a minority of patients, it said it had recalled everyone in Dr Watt’s care and has asked them to book a new appointment at one of the additional clinics it will be running in the coming months.
After concerns were raised about Dr Watt’s treatment plans and diagnoses, the trust launched an investigation of his patients, and this was followed by a review by the Royal College of Physicians, both of which found issues.
Dr Mark Mitchelson, medical chair of the division for neuroscience, told The Independent: “I fully understand this will cause significant anxiety to many patients and their families and for that we are truly sorry.
“When we say [concerns raised over] management of patients, these involve some diagnoses, as well as treatment plans, for a small number of patients. Dr Watt’s saw the full spectrum of neurological conditions, many of which are complex, debilitating and long-term, things like MS, epilepsy, headache and stroke.
He added: “There is no suggestion that patients have experienced significant harm, nor do we believe they have died because of the care they received.”
However, as many of these conditions are progressive and treatment is often focused on delaying the onset of symptoms and maximising patients’ quality of life, Dr Mitchelson said it was a “real challenge” to know whether any individual’s condition deteriorated further than it should have as a result of Dr Watt’s care.
“While we understand this will be an incredibly anxious time for patients, and their families, it’s prudent to be cautious about any patient safety concerns and that’s why we’re reviewing all patients on his active patient list,” he added. “He has been a consultant for 20 years in the trust, and because of the long-term nature of many of these conditions he will have seen many of them for years.
“Again, we are truly sorry for the anxiety this will cause.”
Dr Watt is still employed by the trust, but not currently seeing patients or had any active clinical duties since summer 2017.
Since the news of his suspension, his profile on the website iWantGreatCare, which allows patients to rate and review their physicians, has been inundated with positive reviews.
While these are anonymous and can’t be individually verified or even be confirmed to be patients, even negative commenters praised the doctor for being an exceptional listener and many said he took their symptoms seriously after years of frustration and misdiagnosis.
One critical reviewer who claims they saw Dr Watt as a private patient at the Ulster Independent Clinic, said he had diagnosed them with multiple sclerosis.
“He told me that I had MS, and said he would refer me for MRIs of my spine and head,” they write.
“I contacted the MRI unit four months later to find that he had not referred me at all. A GP organised the MRIs and a new neurologist has read them [and] I don’t have MS!”
While the reviewer gave him a one-star recommendation and one star for “trust”, he they did still get five stars for “listening”.
The reviewer added: “For nine months, because of his caring and understanding manner, I trusted his diagnosis,” but they say they shouldn’t have been diagnosed without the MRI results confirming it.
A spokesperson for the Royal College of Physicians said: “The review of the patient records by our team of clinical experts confirmed patient safety concerns.
“The final report was issued to the Trust on 26 April 2018 and we will continue to monitor their work to implement the recommendations of our report. We have been encouraged by the approach the trust is taking to ensure patients are proactively seen and are receiving care that is of a high standard.”
Belfast Trust has set up a helpline, anyone with concerns or seeking further supports can call 0800 980 1100 and lines will be open weekdays from 9am to 9pm and weekends from 9am to 5pm