Home Neurology Dr Michael Watt: Neurologist ‘carried out hundreds of needless procedures’

Dr Michael Watt: Neurologist ‘carried out hundreds of needless procedures’


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The suspended Belfast neurologist Michael Watt carried out hundreds of unnecessary procedures on patients, a BBC Spotlight investigation has revealed.

Dr Michael Watt worked at the Royal Victoria Hospital as a neurologist diagnosing conditions like epilepsy and Parkinson’s Disease.

He is currently suspended from practising medicine.

It follows about 3,000 patients being given recall appointments last year.

Dr Watt was responsible for a huge spike in the number of epidural blood patches carried out in the Belfast Trust in 2015 and 2016.

A blood patch is a rare neurological treatment, usually for patients with a condition called spontaneous intracranial hypotension.

A report by the Department of Health, details of which have been obtained by Spotlight, says that almost none of the patients on whom Dr Watt carried out blood patches had the condition he was treating them for.

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BBC Spotlight’s Conor Spackman spoke to some of Dr Watt’s patients

In 2018, almost 3000 of Dr Watt’s patients were recalled for a fresh assessment of their care.

Last week, Spotlight reported that one in five were told at the recall they had been misdiagnosed.

A blood patch involves injecting the patient’s own blood into their spine.

Spotlight’s research indicates that Michael Watt carried out 261 blood patches in a nine year period from 2009 to 2017 inclusive, more than 160 of which were over two years, 2015 and 2016.

To put the figure in context, the programme sent a Freedom of Information request to 150 health trusts across the UK asking them how many blood patches they carried out in 2015 and 2016.

96 responded and analysis of their responses reveals that Michael Watt was carrying out more blood patches than any of them.

‘Extraordinarily high’

A blood patch expert at the Countess of Chester Hospital in Cheshire, Dr Simon Bricker, told Spotlight that blood patches are normally done by anaesthetists.

He said the numbers being done by Dr Watt were “extraordinarily high” and “somebody doing epidural blood patches in very large numbers should raise red flags straightaway”.

The programme also heard testimony which suggested Michael Watt may not have carried out blood patches in sterile conditions, which Dr Bricker said was “crucial” when doing a blood patch.

One patient Therese Ward described how she contracted meningitis after one of her blood patches while another two were excruciatingly painful.

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Dr Bricker told Spotlight that meningitis is a risk of a botched blood patch.

He added that the procedure, when done properly, should be largely painless.

‘Traumatic experiences’

Therese Ward gave permission for the Belfast Trust to respond publicly to Spotlight’s questions about her care.

Despite that, the Trust said it was unable to publicly discuss what it called the ‘personal and traumatic experiences’ described by some of Dr Watt’s patients.

It did not respond to questions about what it knew of Michael Watt’s blood patches during the time of the spike.

It said that blood patches are carried out with an aseptic non-touch technique in a clean environment.

It added that a report into Michael Watt’s care had recommended a new local guideline for blood patches which had recently been implemented.

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Dr Simon Bricker told Spotlight that blood patches are normally done by anaesthetists

Spotlight has also revealed that Michael Watt’s enthusiasm for blood patches was first curtailed because of the intervention of a GP.

In late 2016, a Comber based physician noticed that several of his patients were receiving blood patches.

He didn’t think they needed them and told the Belfast Trust.

Six months later, in summer 2017, Dr Watt was removed from clinical duties.

The recall of patients followed an investigation by the Royal College of Physicians.

In early 2019, Dr Watt was suspended from practising medicine.

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