The Professional Standards Authority (PSA) filed an appeal against the decision of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal of the General Medical Council (‘the Tribunal’) granting voluntary erasure to Dr Michael Watt.

Dr Michael Watt

Dr Michael Watt, Consultant Neurologist, was at the centre of the large patient recall by the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust accused of carrying out hundreds of unnecessary procedures. Over a seven-year period between 2009 and 2017, Dr Watt performed 261 blood patches, of which more than 160 were carried out in 2015 and 2016.

A blood patch expert, Dr Simon Bricker, told BBC Spotlight that an anaesthetist should perform blood patches and that these figures were “extraordinarily high”. Dr Bricker said that “somebody doing epidural blood patches in very large numbers should raise red flags straightaway.”

According to details of a report also obtained by BBC Spotlight, recall appointments and fresh assessments have revealed that one in five patients of Dr Michael Watt were misdiagnosed.

The PSA referred the matter to the High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland due to its concern that the decision was not sufficient to protect the public. The Authority is concerned that the decision of the Tribunal erred in failing to give sufficient weight to the public interest in this case being considered at a fitness to practise hearing and that there were procedural errors in the panel’s approach.

The hearing held on 10 and 13 June 2022 was a preliminary hearing to determine whether the decision to allow Dr Watt’s voluntary erasure falls within the Authority’s section 29 jurisdiction. This was not the section 29 appeal itself.

The High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland considered submissions from all the parties involved, including two patients who had lodged judicial review proceedings against the MPTS’ decision.

The Court reached the view that the MPTS, in allowing the application for voluntary erasure, was making an administrative decision under s31A of the Medical Act 1983 and not a decision under s35D of the Medical Act 1983. The Court considered the scope of the Authority’s jurisdiction and concluded that it did not include s31A decisions. The result being that the appeal, lodged by the Authority, has no legal effect.

The Court commented that this may well be a gap in the legislation, and the PSA said “we will consider this in the context of the ongoing regulatory reform programme.”

It continued:

“We are disappointed that the Court was not persuaded by our arguments. However, we believe that this was an important test case to bring. We remain concerned that the lack of any investigation into the allegations against Dr Watt continue to have a negative effect on public confidence and maintaining standards in the profession.”

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