A Fermanagh woman who received a call back as part of Northern Ireland’s biggest case review, has described the process as a “complete fiasco”.
The woman, who does not want to be named, is one of 2,500 patients who were recalled by the Belfast Health Trust at the beginning of May this year amid concerns some of them may have been misdiagnosed.
She and the rest of the patients had all been under the care of Consultant Neurologist, Dr. Michael Watt.
Speaking to The Impartial Reporter this week she explained that she was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2003 and has been on medication for it ever since.
But after she attended her review appointment in May, and having requested access to her own medical notes, she says she has seen a letter from the review consultant to her GP, stating that her description of her seizures was “atypical” and, because there was no witness account of any of the seizures over the last 15 years, the epilepsy diagnosis could not be confirmed.
“I don’t know if she even looked at my medical notes,” said the Fermanagh woman, “Something like that could mean I end up with a diagnosis that is not correct,” she fears.
“The consultant, whom I had never met before, said that none of my seizures had ever been witnessed, but through my medical notes, I have found well over 30 discrepancies in what she has said. Some of my seizures have been recorded while I was in hospital, rapid response have witnessed them before, my GP has witnessed them before. I actually had one while I was with her in my appointment but she said this was just a ‘panic attack’.”
Official complaints about Dr. Watt were first made to the Belfast Trust in December 2016 by a GP. Asked how she felt about the senior neurologist’s care over the years, the Fermanagh patient says she had always found him to be “a lovely man, quite funny, and very good with his patients”.
“He was always very well presented and he had a very nice way with him,” she says, “The last time I saw him, I was stunned. He didn’t look like himself at all. With me, it was ‘hit and miss’ with medications, but I always found him so good and he was quite happy to see me frequently. It was trial and error with drugs until things settled. But if I had a flare up of seizures, I just had to ring the epilepsy nurse and it would be taken from there.”
The woman’s health, in terms of her epilepsy, had been relatively stable until she had to have unrelated surgery on her foot in 2014.
“That kicked the seizures off again,” she said, “Anything traumatic can trigger them and it just went from bad to worse after that.”
As a result of her experience, she was surprised to read the letter from the review consultant to her local GP in her medical notes.
“The appointment [with the review consultant] only lasted 15 minutes. To me, you are never going to get a person’s entire medical history dating back to 2003 in 15 minutes.
“I wouldn’t have known a thing about the letter to my GP only that there was a copy of it in my medical notes.”
Following her review appointment, the woman had a number of scans across three hospital sites all within a week in June.
“I won’t hear anything now until August 20,” she says. “I can’t even contact my GP for reassurance because they have been told nothing about what is going on. So patients like myself are left dangling on a string and completely in the dark. I thought in the review appointment I would have been told a bit more about what is going on and what to expect. But nothing.
“There is a real lack of communication. It is a complete fiasco.”
Despite the review into his work, she says she never had any doubts about Dr. Watt.
“I just can’t believe that any of this is happening,” she says, “And that we are being left to wait so long to find out whether we were misdiagnosed. If I am told I am not epileptic, what happens then?
“I have been on medication since 2003 - how do they bring me off that again?
“I feel like I am totally in the dark and my life is on hold until I am told more.
“Every time I see the post man coming I am wondering: ‘Is there going to be any news today?’.”
A spokesperson for the Belfast Trust said: “The neurology recall has led to 2,500 patients on Dr Watt’s active list being reviewed. Whilst we are unable to comment on individual cases we are due to finish recall appointments by the end of July.
“Our over-riding priority is to ensure that all of the patients who had been on Dr Watt’s list prior to his cessation of active practice are reviewed and supported during this anxious time.
“At their hospital appointment, each patient has their care reviewed to assess their diagnosis and treatment, to arrange appropriate investigations, and to ensure that their ongoing care is appropriate. If any follow-up investigations are needed, these are arranged and a follow up appointment with the patient will take place as soon as possible.
“If any patient requires counselling services this is arranged.
“Every patient being reviewed will have a letter sent to their GP, as standard procedure, updating them on their treatment plan.”