Neurologist Dr Michael Watt's voluntary removal from medical register a 'get out of jail free card'

A Belfast neurologist granted voluntary removal from the medical register appears to have received a “get out of jail free card”, the High Court has been told.

Counsel for some of those treated by Dr Michael Watt claimed it was an unlawful move which denied public scrutiny of a medic at the centre of Northern Ireland’s biggest ever patient recall. In October 2021 the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) allowed the ex-consultant at the Royal Victoria Hospital a Voluntary Erasure (VE) from the register.

It meant the neurologist would not face a public hearing into any fitness to practise concerns. Former patients Danielle O’Neill and Michael McHugh both claim there was no jurisdiction for a move which breached their human rights. The court was told Ms O’Neill considers herself a victim of alleged malpractice and an active member of survivor’s group Neurology Recall Patients Support Group.

Campaigners outside Belfast High Court Credit: Presseye

Her barrister, Dessie Hutton KC, claimed the general perception is that permitting Dr Watt to de-register was an abuse of the relevant legislation. “In the context of this extraordinary recall, with extraordinary consequences, and where accountability and transparency was expected, this decision looks like something of a get out of jail free card for the doctor concerned,” he said. Mr Hutton argued that neither Parliament nor the General Medical Council (GMC) intended any such remedy for physicians accused of misconduct or malpractice. “If the jurisdiction is used in a way that it begins to look like that, then that becomes a matter of concern,” he added. Counsel stressed that the GMC and the tribunal were imbued with a “sacred trust”. “They are the bodies that look after the health professionals that look after us,” he said. Mr Justice McAlinden observed: “This decision didn’t do much for public confidence, did it?” The hearing continues.

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