Health Minister Robin Swann said the report on the work of disgraced neurosurgeon Dr Michael Watt was “very difficult to read” and offered his “sincere apologies” to affected patients.
r Swann made the announcement after the Independent Neurology Investigation released its final report on Tuesday morning making 76 recommendations following a series of failures by the Belfast Foundation to intervene in the care of more than 5,000 former patients of Dr Watt.
The minister acknowledged that it was a “torturous day” for patients and their families, which will “aggravate the trauma already experienced.”
Mr Swann said the report would be reviewed “thoroughly and prudently” and said the changes recommended in the findings would come “as quickly as possible”.
“Once again, on behalf of the entire health service, I offer my sincere apologies to all those who have been let down so badly,” he said.
“Today my thoughts are with all patients and their families affected by the neurological recall.
“I want to thank the chairman of the investigation, Brett Lockhart, QC, research team member Professor Hugo Muskie-Taylor, and their wider team for their life-changing work.
“The report of the commission of inquiry is extensive and detailed. I will ensure that he is given the careful and measured attention he deserves.
“I am determined to carry out this analysis as quickly as possible. I undertake to respond fully to the Report’s recommendations as soon as practicable.”
The published report was critical of the Belfast Foundation and stated that it “could and should have intervened sooner, but did not”.
He also found substantial evidence “that concerns were raised but not adequately addressed, or further exacerbated in many cases.”
The Belfast Trust apologized to patients who “suffered preventable and unnecessary harm while under the care of Dr. Watt.” The statement said: “We fully and unconditionally regret what happened.”
Mr Swann continued: “Today’s report is a very difficult read for anyone concerned with health and social care in Northern Ireland.
“It states that the systems and processes in place prior to November 2016 to ensure patient safety have failed. It is important to note that opportunities to intervene in the practice of Michael Watt have been missed for a number of years.
“The Investigation Team believes that without a response from the then Belfast Trust Medical Director in December 2016 to the concerns raised, especially in July 2017, there is no guarantee that the issues identified in the recall will necessarily occur.
“The report acknowledges that since the neurology recall, changes have been initiated to improve patient safety.
“The entire HSC system should continue to develop these improvements, guided by the report of the Commission of Inquiry.
“While the reputation of our healthcare service has undoubtedly been tarnished, we must also be mindful of the high quality and thoughtful care provided every day by a dedicated and skilled staff. Fortunately, they are the norm.
“Strong processes and procedures are essential to identify and eliminate misguided and incompetent professionals. This investigative report is relevant to both the HSC and the entire NHS, and I will share its findings with my colleagues in England, Scotland and Wales. It also raises questions about the independent healthcare sector and GMC.
“Health care is of the utmost importance and the result is always very serious consequences when something goes wrong. We must always strive to learn from such incidents and take decisive action to ensure that mistakes are not repeated.
“This will be an absolute priority for me and my department.”