The recently reported recall of up to 2,500 patients, many of them children, treated by neurology consultant Dr Michael Watt at the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust in Northern Ireland has worrying parallels with the case of convicted Midlands breast surgeon Ian Paterson.
Kashmir Uppal, partner in Shoosmiths medical negligence team who was instrumental in bringing Paterson’s crimes to light and gaining justice for his many victims, commented:
‘There are alarmingly similar failures to the Paterson case in managerial oversight and administration resulting in a potentially serious impact on patient safety’.
The Belfast Health Trust had reportedly been aware of a problem with possible mis-diagnosis of Dr Watt’s patients since December 2016. It is true that, following an internal investigation urged by his colleagues, within six months Dr Watt was no longer working with patients and he has not seen any patients since June 2017.
However, it took a year to get to that point and it would seem that the decision to recall Dr Watt's patients was made only after an independent review by the Royal College of Physicians was delivered last week.
The question of whether the Trust acted quickly enough in this case has disturbing echoes of the way Paterson’s patients were treated. Even after Paterson was sentenced, Kashmir Uppal notes that several women approached Shoosmiths because they had not received a recall appointment and therefore, wrongly, assumed they were not affected by the issues involving the surgeon.
The sense of deja-vue increases with the subsequent reports that Dr Watt also operated in private practice (as did Ian Paterson at Spire hospitals) at the Ulster Independent Clinic until 2017, so the number of people affected may well be significantly greater than originally thought.
Although the Paterson inquiry, expected to report in summer 2019, will restrict itself to the treatment of patients in the private sector and the NHS in England and Wales only, it has promised to draw conclusions in relation to the safety and quality of care provided nationally to all patients. Kashmir Uppal said:
‘I have said before that this is not a regional problem. Our experience of the Paterson cases, which seems to be mirrored here, showed that the patient recall process was flawed in both the private and NHS sectors and that an improved process to ensure patients are informed of incidents that could affect them much earlier is needed.’
Based on that experience, Kashmir gives exactly the same advice she gave to patients of Paterson who had not been recalled - to urgently request such an appointment to put their minds at ease.
An advice line set up by the NHS Belfast Health Trust is available on 0800 980 1100. A similar helpline for patients treated at the Ulster Independent Clinic is available on is 028 9068 6511.