Belfast doctor Michael Watt misdiagnosed 45% of cases, review into deaths finds

<span>Photograph: Rebecca Black/PA</span>
Photograph: Rebecca Black/PA

A review of the clinical records of 44 patients who died under the care of the disgraced former neurologist Michael Watt has found a misdiagnosis rate of 45%.

In 2018, more than 2,500 of Watt’s neurology patients in Northern Ireland, including children, were recalled for a case review.

An independent inquiry launched in 2018 found there were numerous failures, that opportunities were missed by the Belfast Health Trust to identify problems with the neurologist’s practice and that earlier intervention by the trust would have “made a difference”.

In October last year, Watt was removed from the medical register after he made a voluntary application – meaning allegations about his work could not be heard in a tribunal by the General Medical Council (GMC).

Now, a review of 44 deceased cases, conducted by the Royal College of Physicians at the request of the regulator, the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA), has highlighted concerns over clinical decision-making, prescribing and diagnostics, the BBC reported.

It reveals a misdiagnosis rate of 45% among the group of 44 patients.

In several cases, a review of death certification, or referral to a medical examiner or coroner, was recommended, meaning coroners could be asked to reopen inquests.

That could mean the reopening of some cases by the coroner if he is approached by families to do so.

In a preface to the latest review, the RQIA’s chair, Christine Collins, said: “Family accounts starkly illustrate how failings by the individual practitioner, and by the system, led to deep human impacts and resulting harm, both to the deceased patients and to their bereaved families.”

In the wake of the 2018 recall, the Belfast health and social care trust set up special clinics so that the patients concerned – some as young as 14 – could have their condition reassessed as soon as possible.

The patients were being treated by Watt for conditions such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and motor neurone disease.

The trust apologised for the “significant anxiety” felt by the affected patients but said the move was necessary to ascertain if they were receiving the right treatment.

About one in five patients had to have their diagnoses changed.

The recall followed separate reviews into the notes detailing the care he provided to some people, which were undertaken by the trust and the Royal College of Physicians.

Watt ceased medical practice – through the trust or privately – in June 2017.