Neurologist Dr Michael Watt withdraws lawyer from fitness to practise hearing over health issues

Neurologist Dr Michael Watt has withdrawn his lawyer from a tribunal considering his fitness to practice.

A neurologist at the centre of Northern Ireland’s largest ever recall of patients has withdrawn his legal representative from a tribunal considering his fitness to practise. A lawyer for Belfast-based neurologist Dr Michael Watt said the tribunal was “willing to embrace” an increased risk to his client’s mental health by proceeding with the hearing. However, a barrister for the General Medical Council (GMC) told the tribunal that he believed on the balance of fairness the hearing should proceed uncontested.

The Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) is carrying out the hearing into Dr Watt. In 2018 more than 4,000 of the neurologist’s patients attended recall appointments amid concerns over his clinical practice. A previous MPTS tribunal granted Dr Watt voluntary removal from the medical register. However, the High Court quashed that ruling due to concerns it was “not sufficient to protect the public”. The three-person tribunal began its new hearing last month, when it was told a performance report into Dr Watt in 2018 found that he repeatedly failed to make correct diagnoses. Resuming the hearing in public session on Friday, tribunal chair Neil Dalton said they had heard evidence and a number of submissions in private session and the panel had made a determination that the hearing should now proceed. Dr Watt’s barrister, Matthew McDonagh, said there were concerns about his client’s “serious mental health condition”. He added: “The tribunal has accepted, as indeed the previous fitness to practise tribunal accepted, that the continuation of this hearing in public presents a real risk to Dr Watt’s mental health. “The tribunal is willing to embrace the increased risk to Dr Watt’s serious mental health condition by proceeding in this way. “Those risks have been confirmed by both the General Medical Council and the defence expert witnesses who have given evidence before you. “The defence team are not willing to embrace that risk.” Mr McDonagh said his client’s condition had prevented the defence from challenging the performance report. He added: “Dr Watt fears that the extensive opprobrium that the General Medical Council and MPTS have encountered may be a factor that has impacted their present approach to this case.

“Dr Watt believes the present hearing only serves to mollify the public clamour that is resounding in this case.” He added: “Further iterations of this case and the frenzied media cycle may satiate the public clamour but will serve no legitimate purpose and will increase the risk to Dr Watt.” Mr McDonagh said his instructions were to withdraw an application for voluntary erasure of his client from the medical register and to withdraw from the proceedings. Representing the GMC, Charles Garside KC said the tribunal would now have to make a decision on whether to continue with the hearing while it was uncontested. He said: “Fairness includes fairness to the public and fairness to the GMC. “In this case the doctor has made a decision with full advice and knowledge of what the implications may be. “Public interest requires that these proceedings are dealt with as expeditiously as possible, so both the public and Dr Watt know what the outcome of them will be. “In my submissions the balance of fairness is in favour of the tribunal continuing with this hearing.” Mr Dalton said the panel would retire to consider the application that the hearing proceed in the absence of legal representation from Dr Watt.

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