What is the background to the Expert Review of Records of Deceased Patients of Dr Watt?
On 1 May 2018, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust (Belfast Trust) announced a recall of 2,500 patients in relation to concerns regarding the clinical practice of Dr Watt, a consultant neurologist employed by the Belfast Trust.
On 2 May 2018, the Permanent Secretary to the Department of Health announced the establishment of an Independent Neurology Inquiry, chaired by Brett Lockhart QC, to review the recall of neurology patients by the Belfast Trust. The Health Minister converted this inquiry to a Statutory Public Inquiry on 11 December 2020, under the Inquiries Act 2005.
The Permanent Secretary also directed the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA), Northern Ireland’s regulatory body, to:
• undertake a Review of governance arrangements of outpatient services in the Belfast HSC Trust, with a focus on Neurology and other high volume specialties (published in February 2020)
• review governance arrangements in independent hospitals and hospices in Northern Ireland (published in June 2021).
• commission an expert review of the records of all patients or former patients of the consultant neurologist, who had died over the previous ten years. This is known as The Expert Review of Records of Deceased Patients of Dr Watt (2008-2018) (“the Review”).
Is the Review different to the Independent Neurology Inquiry?
Yes, this Review is separate to the Independent Neurology Inquiry (INI) announced by the Permanent Secretary in 2018. The Health Minister changed the status of the INI to a Statutory Public Inquiry in December 2020.
You can access the Terms of Reference for the public inquiry at: Neurology Inquiry Terms of Reference
How is the Review being carried out?
The Review is likely to take a number of years to complete, given the significant scale of the work involved in reviewing the records of deceased patients who were at some point under the care of Dr Watt between 2008 and 2018. The Department of Health has therefore agreed that RQIA should take a phased approach to the Review.
What do you mean by a “phased approach”?
Phase 1, which involved our preparatory work for this Review, is complete. We began by engaging with our legal advisors in order to develop a Legal Framework to allow RQIA to access the clinical records of the deceased patients’ of Dr Watt. This framework has been signed (formally adopted) by the Chief Executives of the relevant Health and Social Care (HSC) Bodies.
A suite of operational protocols were developed to ensure the safe management of the clinical records in preparation for review by a panel of expert reviewers from outside of Northern Ireland.
We established a project team with the following sub-groups:
1. Ethical Advisory Group
2. Clinical Advisory Group
3. Information and Clinical Records Group
4. Communications and Family Involvement and Engagement Group
We also established a steering group to provide oversight of the Review. You can access the Terms of Reference for the Steering Group here. The group is jointly chaired by Mrs Emer Hopkins, RQIA Director of Hospital Services, Independent Health Care, Review and Audit Programmes and Aneez Esmail, Professor of General Practice at the University of Manchester.
What phase is the Review at now?
RQIA has commenced Phase 2 of the Review. The following records have been selected for review in accordance with objectives developed by the Clinical Advisory Group: Phase Two Objectives.
- the records of those deceased patients whose family members have approached the RQIA with concerns about their care; and
- the records of patients who were included in the Belfast Trust’s Cohort 1 neurology recall but unfortunately died before either attending or completing their re-assessment.
We have established a Family Liaison Team who have reached out to the families of the deceased patients whose records are to be reviewed during Phase 2. They explained the review and offered the families an opportunity to become involved by sharing their experiences regarding the care and treatment provided to their relative by Dr Watt, with the Family Liaison Team.
RQIA has commissioned the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) to establish an Expert Review Panel of experienced consultants from outside of Northern Ireland to review the records selected for Phase 2 of the Review and, in addition, to consider any information shared with RQIA by the families of the deceased patients. These arrangement allow the expert review to commence.
On completion of the review of the records selected for Phase 2, the RCP will provide RQIA with a report of its findings. These will then be shared with the Department of Health, and published on RQIA’s website.
Hearing about the Review has caused me distress, is there anywhere I can get some support?
RQIA is aware that our contact with families may prove difficult and painful and may further impact on their grief and sorrow and we apologise for any potential distress this may cause. However, we aim to be transparent and open about the review, family members and next of kin have been offered the option to choose to be informed about the progress.
We have identified a number of organisations who can offer support to family members, should that be of benefit. The Family Liaison Team can assist with this and contact details are included on our website www.rqia.org.uk, and in our Family Information leaflet and Coping with Grief leaflet .
RQIA appreciates that some families may wish to have no further engagement with us in relation to this Review and respect decisions in this regard.
How can I find out if my relative is included in Phase 2 of the Review?
There are a number of ways to make an enquiry about this review, including finding out if your relative is included in Phase 2 of the Review:
• Complete the online enquiry form which you can access here
• Send an email with your name, your contact details and a brief summary of your query to firstname.lastname@example.org
• Telephone 0800 052 0012 between 10am and 5pm, Monday to Friday to speak to a member of the Family Liaison Team
What can families expect if they decide to become involved with Phase 2 of the Review?
The Family Liaison Team have taken steps to contact the families of the deceased patients whose records have been selected for review during Phase 2. They invited the families to contact RQIA if they wished to have information regarding the care their relative received from Dr Watt shared with the Expert Review Panel.
Arrangements were made for family members to meet with representatives from the Family Liaison Team to share their information.
Information can be shared in other ways, if a family preferred not to meet with RQIA, for example by:
• completing the Family Information Form and returning it to RQIA; or by
• completing the online Family Information Form available which can be accessed here or by
• telephoning RQIA on 0800 052 0012 and a member of our Family Liaison Team can record the family information over the telephone.
What members of our family will the Family Liaison Team be speaking to with regards to our relative who died?
The Family Liaison Team have sought to identify one or two people who would have knowledge of their relative’s care and treatment. This could also be one family member accompanied by a friend or an advocate.
What will RQIA do with the information provided by families?
With the family’s permission, RQIA will arrange for the information provided to be shared with the Expert Review Panel.
Will I receive feedback on the findings in relation to the care of my relative?
Yes, arrangements will be put in place for the families of individual deceased patients whose records are reviewed during Phase 2 to be provided with feedback on the findings made by the expert reviewers, should they wish to avail of this.
My relative received care from Dr Watt on a private basis. Will private records been included in the review?
Yes, RQIA has sought to obtain the records of the patients included in Phase 2 of the Review who received care from Dr Watt on a private basis.
If I do not wish to be involved in the review, will my relative’s records still be reviewed by the Expert Review Panel?
Yes, the records of the deceased patients selected for inclusion within Phase 2 of the Review will be reviewed by the Expert Review Panel, regardless of whether the next-of-kin or family member wishes to become involved in the Review.
If I do not wish to be involved in the Review can I still receive feedback on the findings relating to my family member?
Yes, arrangements will be put in place for the next-of-kin or family members of individual deceased patients whose records are reviewed during Phase 2 of the Review to be provided with feedback on the findings made by the Expert Review Panel, should they wish to avail of this.
My relative has not been selected for Phase 2 of the Review, can you tell me when their records will be reviewed?
A decision on the roll-out of future phases of the review will be made following the completion of Phase 2 of the Review. Families are welcome to let RQIA know that they would like to be advised of when their relative will be included in future phases by using any of the following methods:
• Complete the online enquiry form which can be accessed here
• Send an email to email@example.com with your name and contact details along with your relative’s name, date of birth and date of death, and a member of our Family Liaison Team will get back to you; or
• Telephone 0800 052 0012 between 10am and 5pm, Monday to Friday to speak to a member of our Family Liaison Team.
Who has RQIA commissioned to conduct the Expert Review of the records selected for Phase 2 of the Review?
RQIA has commissioned the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) to establish a panel of Expert Reviewers from outside of Northern Ireland to review the records of the deceased patients selected within Phase 2 of the Review and, in addition, to consider any information shared with RQIA by family members.
What will happen once Phase 2 of the Review has been completed?
The RCP will provide RQIA with a report of its findings when they have completed the expert review of the deceased patient records selected for Phase 2. RQIA will submit a report to the Department of Health, which will then be published on RQIA’s website.
Where can I read the overall findings of Phase 2?
The findings of Phase 2 will be published on the RQIA website. If families wish to receive a copy they can request this from RQIA.
What are RQIA’s plans for future phases of the Review?
The specific plans for future phases of the Review will be informed by the outcomes of Phase 2 and in agreement with the Department of Health.
I'm a journalist, where do I make media queries in relation to this work?
Any media queries should be directed to RQIA’s Communications Manager: firstname.lastname@example.org