The suspended Belfast neurologist Michael Watt carried out hundreds of unnecessary procedures on patients, a BBC Spotlight investigation has revealed.
Dr Michael Watt worked at the Royal Victoria Hospital as a neurologist diagnosing conditions like epilepsy and Parkinson’s Disease.
He is currently suspended from practising medicine.
- Belfast trust recalls 2,500 patients
- ‘One-in-five’ neurology patients misdiagnosed
- Urgent neurology referrals take 68 weeks
Dr Watt was responsible for a huge spike in the number of epidural blood patches carried out in the Belfast Trust in 2015 and 2016.
A blood patch is a rare neurological treatment, usually for patients with a condition called spontaneous intracranial hypotension.
A report by the Department of Health, details of which have been obtained by Spotlight, says that almost none of the patients on whom Dr Watt carried out blood patches had the condition he was treating them for.
In 2018, almost 3,000 of Dr Watt’s patients were recalled for a fresh assessment of their care.
Last week, Spotlight reported that one in five was told at the recall they had been misdiagnosed.
A blood patch involves injecting the patient’s own blood into their spine.
Spotlight’s research indicates that Michael Watt carried out 261 blood patches in a nine-year period from 2009 to 2017 inclusive, more than 160 of which were over two years, 2015 and 2016.
To put the figure in context, the programme sent a Freedom of Information request to 150 health trusts across the UK asking them how many blood patches they carried out in 2015 and 2016.
Ninety-six responded and analysis of their responses reveals that Michael Watt was carrying out more blood patches than any of them.
A blood patch expert at the Countess of Chester Hospital in Cheshire, Dr Simon Bricker, told Spotlight that blood patches are normally done by anaesthetists.
He said the numbers being done by Dr Watt were “extraordinarily high” and “somebody doing epidural blood patches in very large numbers should raise red flags straightaway”.
The programme also heard testimony which suggested Michael Watt may not have carried out blood patches in sterile conditions, which Dr Bricker said was “crucial” when doing a blood patch.
One patient, Therese Ward, described how she contracted meningitis after one of her blood patches, while another two were excruciatingly painful.
Dr Bricker told Spotlight that meningitis is a risk of a botched blood patch.
He added that the procedure, when done properly, should be largely painless.
Therese Ward gave permission for the Belfast Trust to respond publicly to Spotlight’s questions about her care.
Despite that, the Trust said it was unable to publicly discuss what it called the “personal and traumatic experiences” described by some of Dr Watt’s patients.
It did not respond to questions about what it knew of Michael Watt’s blood patches during the time of the spike.
It said that blood patches are carried out with an aseptic non-touch technique in a clean environment.
It added that a report into Michael Watt’s care had recommended a new local guideline for blood patches which had recently been implemented.
Spotlight has also revealed that Michael Watt’s enthusiasm for blood patches was first curtailed because of the intervention of a GP.
In late 2016, a Comber-based physician noticed that several of his patients were receiving blood patches.
He didn’t think they needed them and told the Belfast Trust.
Six months later, in summer 2017, Dr Watt was removed from clinical duties.
The recall of patients followed an investigation by the Royal College of Physicians.
The Department of Health said that it is frustrated with the situation.
“While we fully recognise that the delay in the release of the outcomes report – for reasons outside our control – is hugely frustrating for former patients of Dr Watt, we must emphasise that all recalled patients will have had direct dialogue with clinicians as regards their own diagnosis,” it said.
In early 2019, Dr Watt was suspended from practising medicine.
A spokesperson for the PSNI said: “We are aware of the recall of neurology patients by the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and have met with senior officials within the Department of Health to discuss the issue.
“The Department has agreed to provide us with further information so that we can assess how best to move forward and to enable us to determine if any potential criminal offences can be identified.”
Party leader reiterates his decision not to back leave or remain ahead of election
Jeremy Corbyn has repeated his insistence that his party will not take sides between leave and remain ahead of the election, as he said Labours Brexit policy really isnt complicated.
The Labour leader was delivering a speech on Brexit in the leave-voting seat of Harlow, Essex, as the partys election campaign gathers pace.
Its time to take the decision out of the hands of politicians and trust the people to decide, he said. This time the choice will be between leaving with a sensible deal or remaining in the European Union. Thats the policy. It really isnt complicated.
Boris Johnson wrote to Corbyn on Monday night, accusing him of failing to be clear about Labours policy, and asking which side he would take in a future referendum.
Asked whether opposition frontbenchers would be allowed to campaign on either side, Corbyn said a decision would be taken at a special Labour conference.
We will come to a view as a party and at that point we will give that view to the people of the country. Some shadow cabinet members, including Jon Trickett, have suggested they would be minded to campaign for a Labour Brexit.
Corbyn said: People sometimes accuse me of trying to talk to both sides at once in the Brexit debate, to people who voted leave and remain. You know what? Theyre right.
Why would I only want to talk to half the country? I dont want to live in half a country, he added.
He said working-class voters in Harlow and York leave- and remain-voting constituencies respectively are up against it but not against each other.
Speaking before Corbyn, the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, also insisted Labours position was simple. And Starmer warned that Johnsons deal could be a trapdoor to a no-deal Brexit in December 2020, after the environment secretary, Michael Gove, ruled out extending the transition period.
Under Johnsons withdrawal agreement, if a free trade deal with the EU cannot be struck, and the status quo transition period is not extended, the UK would revert to trading on World Trade Organization rules.
Starmer warned that if Johnson won a majority Britain would take a decisive lurch to the right.
Asked how confident he was that a deal could be negotiated and a referendum held within six months, Corbyn said: The deadline weve set for ourselves is a realistic one. We wouldnt be saying this if we didnt believe it to be realistic, and doable.
He repeated his warning that a free trade deal with the US could raise drugs prices by giving corporations access to the health service. Well say it again and again until it gets through to the White House: our NHS is not for sale.
As well as Starmer, who has been a keen advocate of a remain position, the carefully choreographed event at a hotel also featured the shadow employment rights minister, Laura Pidcock, who in the past has been more sceptical about a second referendum.
I did not come into politics to only discuss amendments, sub-clauses, and one piece of legislation over and over again: I came into politics to stand alongside people who are battling austerity, Pidcock said. People are not leave or remain: there are common bonds between people in my constituency who voted both ways.
We refuse to be driven down the road of leave and remain: we respect those on both sides of the argument. This election is about saving the planet, for goodness sake. Its about ending homelessness with a massive housebuilding programme. Its about saving the NHS, taking the profits out of ill health.
Labour hopes Tuesdays speech will help to draw a line under the divisive issue, and allow the party to shift the election debate on to other issues.