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Sinn Féin frustrated at lack of clarity on neurology investigation – Sheehan

4 June, 2018 - by Pat Sheehan

At a Sinn Féin press conference today Pat Sheehan MLA revealed that the party is becoming frustrated and concerned at the lack of clarity from the Belfast Trust and the Health department on its investigation into the Neurology crisis.

The Sinn Féin health spokesperson said: “The scale of the Neurology crisis is unprecedented involving 3,200 patients and raising serious concerns in relation to governance, oversight and accountability.

“There are clearly grievous concerns regarding Dr Michael Watt's care management and the department has initiated two separate reviews, one under the auspices of the RQIA and the other an Independent Panel chaired by Brett Lockhart QC.

“Sinn Féin has engaged closely with all health authorities since the concerns about Dr Watt first emerged, the most recent meeting being on Thursday past.

“However, the Department has yet to produce its terms of reference for the reviews.

“During this period, they have also produced conflicting information regarding Dr Watt’s appraisal record and have indicated that they first became aware of concerns regarding Dr Watt in early December 2016. But we are aware that a total of 14 complaints were made against Dr Watt between 2011 and 2016 and possibly more prior to that.

“The conflicting information and lack of clarity from the Department is eroding confidence that the reviews will uncover the full facts behind this scandal.

“This lack of confidence has to be seen in the context of Justice O’Hara’s recent report.  Justice O’Hara stated that the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust ‘deliberately withheld information from him’.

“Professor Scally, who was an adviser to the O'Hara Inquiry, said: ‘This is a remarkable account of lies, deceit and cover-up, of negligence and of secrecy and deliberate obstruction.’

“Therefore, we are today calling on the Department to publish robust terms of reference without any further delay.

“These Terms of Reference must clearly demonstrate that they will get to the truth of all matters concerning Dr Watts and the role of the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and the Department of Health in the failures that led to the recall.

“Sinn Féin has set out five tests for assessing whether the Independent Panel can get to the truth of the neurology scandal.

“These tests are:

1 Access to evidence: any investigation must have full access to written and oral evidence.

2 Transparency: witnesses’ testimony and relevant documents should be made public except where there is a clear justification for non-disclosure. The Panel’s report must be made public and redactions should only be made where necessary to protect personal details.

3 Accountability: as part of its Terms of Reference the panel must identify individuals responsible for any failings, including within the Belfast Trust or Department of Health.

4 Timely: the Panel should have a reasonable timeframe for publishing its findings.

5 Independence: the Panel members must not be currently employed by the Health Service in the north.

“This crisis is too grave. One doctor has told us that it could be as big, if not bigger, than the cervical cancer scandal in the South.

“Patients deserve answers. The public deserve a transparent, effective health service they can have confidence in, so no stone should be left unturned to get to the truth.”

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