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Latest News (Updated December 2021)

Latest Update (December 2021)

RQIA acknowledges that issues raised in relation to this our review of the records of deceased patients of Dr Watt may prove painful for families and may further impact on their grief and sorrow.  We have identified a number of organisations who can offer support, should that be of benefit.  For further information, please contact our Family Liaison Team.

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has advised that upon completion of the Expert Review, it will take several months to prepare the reports and individual case summaries. We will work with the RCP to ensure the reports are completed and provided as soon as is possible.  We will also keep in regular contact with affected families regarding the expected timescales as they become clearer.

Latest Statement

You can read RQIA's recent statement to the Health Committee (9 November 2021) in relation to this review here.

Background to this Review

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.  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 for health and social care, to:

The Permanent Secretary is kept updated on RQIA’s work at regular meeting of the Neurology Recall Assurance Group.

Progress to Date

The Review is being conducted in a phased manner, given the significant scale of work involved.  The methodology and scope of each phase will be agreed with the Department of Health.

Phase 1

The first phase (Phase 1) involved our preparatory work for this Review.  A legal framework, which allows RQIA to access the clinical records of the deceased patients’ of Dr Watt, with all the health and social care (HSC) bodies has been in place since November 2020. A wide range of other essential preparatory activity was also undertaken.

Phase 2

A project team to ensure delivery of Phase 2 is now in place and comprises an:

  1. Ethical Advisory Group
  2. Clinical Advisory Group
  3. Family Liaison Team
  4. Information advisor
  5. Communications advisor
  6. Clinical Records Team

A steering group is also in place to provide robust oversight of the review. 

The Steering group is jointly chaired by 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.  You can access the terms of reference for the Steering Group here

An Ethical Framework to inform Phase 2 of the Expert Review was developed by the Ethical Advisory Group, in partnership with the project team.  This framework, which sets out principles to guide decision making, will  ensure that Phase 2 of the Expert Review is conducted in an open, transparent, sensitive and fair way.

Records to be included in Phase 2

The following records have been selected for review during Phase 2 of the Expert Review in accordance with objectives developed by the Clinical Advisory Group

  • the records of 29 deceased patients whose family members have approached the RQIA with concerns; and
  • the records of 16 patients who were included in the Belfast Trust’s Cohort 1 neurology recall but unfortunately died before either attending or completing their re-assessment.

For more information about how we are engaging with family members of patients selected for Phase 2, please see our Section on Engagement with Families.

An Expert Review Panel of experienced consultants from outside of Northern Ireland has been established by The Royal College of Physicians (RCP).  The panel began the work of reviewing records in August 2021. As part of their work they will also consider concerns shared with RQIA by the families of the deceased patients.

Our Clinical Records Team has worked diligently in recent months to obtain, digitise, quality-check, redact and upload the records in preparation for review.  These include clinical records, GP records, death certificates, and records regarding those patients treated by Dr Watt in the independent sector (where applicable), in addition to information extracted from the Northern Ireland Electronic Care Record (NIECR) system. These records have been provided to the Reviewers in August 2021.

We acknowledge the significant interest in this Review and importance of completing Phase 2 as swiftly as possible and we are making every effort to avoid any delays. We also recognise it is important to ensure appropriate time be given to full and sensitive engagement with affected families.

Families have now had a full opportunity to provide information and all outstanding contractual and legal issues have been addressed; as such, the records were made available to the RCP in August and the Reviewers will undertake their work through to the end of October 2021, after which reports and individual patient summaries will be prepared.    

We will work with the RCP to ensure the reports are completed and provided as soon as is possible and we will keep in regular contact with affected families.  It is anticipated that these reports will be completed by April 2022.  Once available, RQIA’s Family Liaison Team will make arrangements to share individual reports with family representatives.

Future Phases

RQIA will liaise with the Department of Health about future phases of this review.


There are a number of ways to make an enquiry about this review:

  • Complete the online enquiry form which you can access here 
  • Send an email to: expert.review@rqia.org.uk
  • Telephone 0800 052 0012 between 10am and 5pm, Monday to Friday to speak to a member of our Family Liaison Team