By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
Detectives have launched an investigation into the clinical practices of a former neurologist who was at the centre of Northern Ireland’s largest recall of patients.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland’s (PSNI) Operation Begrain will probe the work of Dr Michael Watt and an appeal has been issued for former patients to come forward.
A senior detective said the investigation would be “long, protracted and complex”.
In 2018, more than 4,000 of the neurologist’s patients attended recall appointments amid concerns over his clinical practice.
Earlier this month, Dr Watt was struck off the medical register after a tribunal found his fitness to practise was currently impaired and that his professional performance was unacceptable.
The police probe will be jointly led by Detective Chief Inspector Neil McGuinness and Detective Inspector Gina Quinn.
Mr McGuinness said: “Operation Begrain is the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s investigation into the clinical practices of Michael Watt, who is a former consultant neurologist.
“Michael Watt worked for the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, and also held private clinics at Hillsborough Private Clinic and the Ulster Independent Clinic.
“We are appealing to former patients, or their next of kin and representatives, who wish to report concerns regarding their medical treatment by Michael Watt, to contact police.”
A dedicated online reporting platform has been created on the PSNI website so people can report their concerns.
Mr McGuinness said: “We would encourage you to use the online reporting form where possible as it will guide you through the questions we need answered and is available 24 hours a day. It is the quickest and easiest way to report.
“However, for anyone unable to use the online reporting facility, we have set up a helpline number which will operate between 9.30am and 3.30pm from Monday to Friday.”
He added: “We recognise wholeheartedly that this will be a harrowing time for many.
“Importantly, the webpage includes details of various available support networks.”
Ms Quinn said patients who come forward will receive a letter by email from the investigation team explaining how to contact detectives and setting out the next steps.
She said: “Once we have a better understanding of how many people wish to engage with police we will be able to update on predicted timeframes.
“What I can say with confidence at this stage though is it will be a long, protracted and complex investigation.
“We realise this will be a traumatic time for many people and we will endeavour to give regular updates throughout this investigation.”
People can contact the police in relation to the investigation into the clinical practices of Michael Watt in a number of ways outlined below.
The phone helpline number is 0800 051 6071.
Detective Chief Inspector Neil McGuinness with Detective Inspector Gina Quinn from Police Service of Northern Ireland's major investigation team, speak to the media at PSNI Headquarters in Belfast