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Son of woman misdiagnosed by Dr Michael Watt says he will continue fight for justice

Ruth Armstrong was taking powerful epilepsy drug Epanutin for 14 months despite not having epilepsy

Disgraced neurologist Dr Michael Watt has been at the centre of one of the UK's largest patient recalls.

Colin Armstrong

Steven MooreSunday World

Colin Armstrong is fighting for justice for his mum after she was misdiagnosed by Dr Michael Watt and died 20 years ago.

The Queen’s University historian says having diagnosed his mum, Ruth, with epilepsy that she never had, the disgraced neurologist then prescribed powerful medication which he believes contributed to killing her.

Ruth Armstrong was taking powerful epilepsy drug Epanutin for 14 months despite not having epilepsy, and she passed away less than two years after coming across Dr Michael Watt.

Her case is one of 44 deceased patients of Dr Watt which are under review but have yet to be fully reported on.

In fact, it has emerged in just a ten-year period between 2008 and 2018, when Dr Watt was suspended from working, more than 3,000 of his patients died.

Speaking to the Sunday World, Mr Armstrong says he’s not just fighting for the truth about his mother’s case but for all the deceased patients.

“Had my mother never been treated by Dr Michael Watt I firmly believe she would have lived a longer life and she would have suffered much less in her final years,” says the 57-year-old. “My mother died in a nursing home in 2002 with a supposed brain tumour, having been misdiagnosed with epilepsy by Dr Watt who gave her invasive and powerful drugs she didn’t need.”

Colin Armstrong

Aside from the disturbing treatment at the hand of Dr Watt, Colin has been left unhappy with a Royal College of Physicians and RQIA report, which stated that prescribing his elderly mother the drug Epanutin was “reasonable”.

“I can’t fathom how the authors of the report came to that conclusion when they agreed that the diagnosis of epilepsy was ‘insecure’,” says Colin.

“Dr Watt diagnosed her with epilepsy on his first meeting in 2001 based on a CT scan which he said himself was “unremarkable” in his notes.

“He didn’t do any further diagnostic tests and instead went straight ahead and prescribed a powerful drug which has been proven, if taken over long periods, to contribute to having a neurological disorder.

“This was exacerbated by the cardiac medication my mother was taking. She had suffered a number of cardiac arrests and was taking heart medication – something Dr Watt would have been fully aware of when he hastily prescribed her Epanutin.

“Shortly after Easter 2002, by which time she had been taking Epanutin for about 14 months, my mother became ill and nauseous and was confined to her bed for one week and to her home for a further week.

“She soon started to show signs of what I now know to be neurological disorder. She had problems with balance and motor skills.

“These symptoms, as well as others she showed during the remaining months of her life, are characteristic of at least one condition, Cerebellar Syndrome or Cerebellar Ataxia, which can be caused by long-term use of Epanutin, potentially aggravated in her case by interaction of that drug with her cardiac medication.”

On June 7, 2002 Ruth had a CT scan of her brain. This scan was the basis for a diagnosis of a terminal brain tumour which was communicated to her the following week.

“She was not offered surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy,” says Colin. “All she was given for the remaining five months of her life – she died on November 12 2002 – was palliative care.”

He has concerns about the diagnosis of a brain tumour after sending her notes to another clinician who believed she had actually suffered an abscess mimicking a brain tumour which had not been picked up because she had never had an MRI scan on her brain.

And he says the RQIA need to consider tasking a neuropharmacologist to assess the potential toxic impact of Epanutin and its potential interaction with Ruth’s other medication.

Colin says: “The Independent Medical Inquiry Report by Brett Lockhart QC refers to the death of another of Watt’s patients which was probably caused by toxic epilepsy medication. My mother’s records need urgently to be examined to see if she died of poisoning from Epanutin.”

Earlier this year we revealed the story of one brave mum who is determined to see Dr Watt brought to court after her daughter died of a rare brain condition after Dr Watt refused to give her a brain scan.

Many more are now coming forward and until now many felt they were the only ones.

Last month we revealed how dozens of people affected by Dr Watt’s treatment had made statements to the PSNI and how they were devastated the neurologist was allowed to remove himself from the medical register, thus avoiding an appearance at a tribunal to explain his actions.

Some of those campaigners met politicians at Stormont, including Alliance Party spokesperson on health, Paula Bradshaw, who said “considerable work” remains to be done in the aftermath of the Independent Neurology Inquiry report.

Many victims and relatives of victims have also expressed concern about the RQIA report, prompting the South Belfast MLA to meet senior figures in the RQIA last week. She said she discussed concerns raised with her in relation to the case reviews carried out for Mr Watt’s deceased patients.

Afterwards she told theSunday World: “I found the meeting very informative and was grateful for the insight into the ongoing process.

“The fallout from this medical scandal is so far-reaching and will undoubtedly go on for many, many years. It is imperative that the families are kept involved and informed.

“I would urge any family member to contact the RQIA if they have concerns about the care and treatment given to those loved one. All families deserve the truth.”

For relatives like Colin Armstrong, the process is far too slow.

“This review was announced in May 2018,” says Colin. “There needs to be a clear plan and timetable for this review and a guarantee of funding.

“The delays to date are unacceptable and unjustifiable and the excuses are unconvincing.”


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