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Large scale neurology patient recall sparks concern in Northern Ireland

News that the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust has recalled 2,500 neurology patients, including children, for a case review 2,500 will no doubt be of huge concern to those directly affected.

It is not yet clear what triggered the review, which concerns patients treated by consultant neurologist Dr Michael Watt, but the trust says it is a “serious” situation and has apologised.

Large scale reviews of this type are unusual but not unprecedented, with recent examples involving consultant breast surgeon Ian Paterson and consultant gynaecologist Rod Irvine. If problems are picked up early enough then this can be evidence of good clinical governance, although the scale of the review indicates that concerns have been building over a considerable period of time.

Like Ian Paterson and Rod Irvine, Dr Watt also ran a private clinic at the Ulster Independent clinic, which has also opened a helpline for concerned patients (although it is not clear whether they have formally recalled any patients for review: care provided in the independent sector may leave patients with less support than those cared for in the health service in these situations).

It is to be hoped that the vast majority of patients will have been correctly diagnosed and treated, and can be reassured by the review, but it seems unlikely that such a large-scale review would have been commissioned without concerns that some patients have received either the wrong diagnosis or the wrong treatment, which may have serious implications for their health.

Patients with concerns should attend any review arranged on their behalf, and should be prepared to ask questions even when assured that everything is in order. Incidents like this can destroy the relationship of trust and health providers should expect to be questioned about every aspect of the care patients have received, and need to take time to provide reassurance and remedies where required.