Michael Watts: Doubts over inquest findings following patient review

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Image source, Brian Norma Sparkes

Fresh evidence has cast doubt on the findings of an inquest into the death of a former patient of discredited neurologist Michael Watt.

Stephen Sparkes died in 2006 at the age of 32. In 2010, an inquest found an epilepsy drug he was taking was “complicit” in his death.

A coroner said the drug was “properly prescribed” but a review last year found Stephen was misdiagnosed.

It said Stephen should have been taken off the medication before he died.

Michael Watt did not respond to BBC Spotlight questions about the treatment, with a representative citing serious ongoing mental health concerns.

The former consultant neurologist was struck off the medical register earlier this month following a misconduct tribunal.

The Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service considered his fitness to practise as “impaired”.

Michael Watt

It said Michael Watt’s removal from the register was the only available option to protect the public.

Spotlight has spoken to Stephen Sparkes’ parents Norma and Brian Sparkes about the care their son received before his death.

Norma Sparkes said “no words can describe” how she felt on finding out her son didn’t need a drug which was found to be have been complicit in his death.

“I feel I have let him down and I felt it for a long time that I wasn’t quick enough on the ball to realise what was going on, and if I had have done it sooner, Stephen might have been alive today,” she said.

Brain surgery ‘unnecessary’

Stephen Sparkes’ medical records were examined by the Royal College of Physicians as part of a review on behalf of the health watchdog, the RQIA.

The review found brain surgery carried out on Stephen Sparkes at Michael Watt’s recommendation was unnecessary.

It said more tests should have been conducted before the surgery was ordered.

Norma and Brian Sparkes believe the surgery was the beginning of their son’s downward spiral.

“He became a bit more forgetful and he would ring me up and then he wouldn’t realise he had already rang me up,” Norma said.

Brian and Norma Sparkes

“I think the awful thing was there was more medication added, stronger medication, medication that was supposed to help him but in actual fact I think the medication was making him worse.”

Michael Watt’s performance at Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital was at the centre of the largest ever patient recall in Northern Ireland.

The Belfast Trust said it recognises the ongoing grief and suffering of Stephen Sparkes’ parents.

“The Belfast Trust has engaged and will continue to engage with any investigations relating to any neurology patient of the Belfast Trust affected by the medical care and treatment provided by Michael Watt,” it said.

‘Danger to patients’

Retired leading neurologist and academic, Prof David Chadwick, who is based in Manchester, has read the case against Michael Watt put forward at the tribunal.

Prof Chadwick said: “It was extremely worrying and if one wanted to look at like a spectrum of practice, it was right off one extreme end.

“He did represent an ongoing danger to patients he was seeing.”

BBC Spotlight’s Rogue doctor: Patients who died is on BBC One Northern Ireland on Tuesday at 22.40 GMT and will be available on the BBC iPlayer.

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