Fermanagh Multiple Sclerosis (MS) patients are among the 2,500 people to be recalled as part of Northern Ireland’s biggest case review, amidst concerns some of them may have been misdiagnosed.
The patients, who had been under the care of Consultant Neurologist, Dr. Michael Watt, were contacted by the Belfast Health Trust this week to inform them that, following an independent review by the Royal College of Physicians based in London, it has been recommended they come forward for a review appointment.
The Belfast Trust is aiming to carry out the reviews within a 12-week period, putting on additional clinics in order to meet their target.
But speaking to the Impartial Reporter this week, some MS patients in Fermanagh who had been under Dr. Watt’s care have described their shock and disbelief.
Although Siobhan Allister is still trying to come to terms with the news herself this week, as a member of the Northern Ireland Council for MS and a group co-ordinator for the Fermanagh branch, she has been inundated with calls from other patients, seeking advice and reassurance over what happens next.
“All I can do is refer them to the helpline that has been provided,” says Siobhan.
“I am very shocked,” she told the Impartial Reporter.
Siobhan is one of a number of MS patients to receive a pioneering drug to treat her condition.
She received the first of her two rounds of treatment last summer and had been awaiting the second round this year.
Plunged into uncertainty as a result of the letter, when this newspaper contacted her she said she had concerns over whether she would actually receive the vital second round at all.
“I found Dr. Watt to be a gentleman,” she said, “I was under his care for eight years.
“My biggest fear now is that since they are putting on all these additional clinics - where is the money coming from? Is all of this being taken from the money that could be used for my treatment?
“The very nature of the treatment means that I have to proceed with it - but I now don’t know if I will get it.”
After she had received her round one Lemtrada, Siobhan was supposed to attend a review with Dr. Watt in September of last year.
Instead, she was placed on a waiting list.
And when she suffered a relapse with her MS last December, her GP made an urgent referral.
“But the soonest anybody could see me was the end of May this year,” she said.
“Lemtrada is such a potent drug, you are supposed to be monitored. And yet, I was told I wouldn’t be seeing anyone until May.”
With her high profile in the Fermanagh area as someone affiliated with the Northern Ireland Council for MS Siobhan says she has even been contacted by people who were never under Dr. Watt’s care.
“That is the fear factor now,” she said, “But I am struggling myself - I am shocked myself.”
Siobhan has concerns that the case review, and quick turn around in additional clinics will now put pressure on other consultants.
“Dr. Watt had 3,200 patients - 2,500 received letters this week.
“He is human - how can anybody have that degree of a caseload? Who is to blame for that?” she asked.
UUP councillor, Victor Warrington was another patient under the care of Dr. Watt.
“The details are very scant on what the concerns actually are here,” he said, “But I had no issues with the care he provided me.
“He was fantastic as far as I am concerned.
“I have been waiting to hear from the Trust since last July. I have only got an appointment for June.”
Mr. Warrington acknowledged this week’s news would cause a lot of concern and uncertainty.
“I would say to anybody who received a letter: the helpline number is there to get in touch and put your mind at ease. Reassure yourself,” he added.