Department of Health announce Independent inquiry panel

Date published: 10 May 2018

The Department of Health today announced the establishment of an independent inquiry panel to review the recall of neurology patients by the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust.

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The inquiry panel will be chaired by Brett Lockhart QC.

Discussions have also been initiated with the Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management on identifying a panel member with suitable clinical leadership expertise.

The inquiry will review the process initiated by the Trust in December 2016, in relation to concerns raised about the clinical practice of Dr Michael Watt. This process resulted in the patient recall announced last week.

In addition, the panel will assess whether any complaints or concerns relating to Dr Watt prior to December 2016 should have provided grounds for earlier intervention.

Department of Health Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly said: “The focus since last week has rightly been on establishing a robust patient recall process. That remains the first priority.

“However, it is clear that a rigorous review is also required – given the seriousness of the situation and the impact on patients. The public needs to be assured that this issue has been properly and appropriately handled by the Trust, and that any lessons for the future are learned.

“I am indebted to Mr Lockhart for agreeing to lead this inquiry panel and undertake this important work.”

The Department has already commissioned the RQIA to undertake a review of governance of outpatient services in the Belfast Trust with a particular focus on neurology services.  This review will then be extended as part of its rolling programme of inspections to cover all five HSC Trusts in NI.

The Department has also asked the RQIA to commission a parallel piece of work to ensure that the records of all patients or former patients of Dr Watt who have died over the past ten years are subject to expert review.

Notes to editors: 

1. In its press release of 2/5/18, the Department said: “We will also be reviewing how this whole process has been handled since the Belfast Trust first became aware of concerns about Dr Watt’s practice.” The inquiry panel has been tasked with undertaking this work.

2. The terms of reference for the inquiry panel will be announced next week, along with further details of the RQIA processes.

3. For media enquiries please contact the Department of Health Press Office team on 028 9052 0575 or email For out of hours please contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 07623 974383 and your call will be returned. Follow us on twitter @healthdpt


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