“My thoughts today are very much with all the patients and families affected by the neurology recall.

“Once again, on behalf of the entire health service, I extend my heartfelt apologies to all those who have been so badly let down.

“I fully appreciate that this is a harrowing day for patients and families, and that it will exacerbate the trauma already experienced.

“I want to thank the Inquiry Chair Brett Lockhart QC, Inquiry Co-Panellist Professor Hugo Mascie-Taylor, and their wider team for their vitally important work.

“The Inquiry Panel’s report is extensive and detailed. I will ensure it is given the careful and measured consideration that it deserves.  I am determined that this analysis should happen as quickly as possible.  I undertake to provide a full response to the Report’s recommendations, as soon as is practicable.

“Today’s report makes very difficult reading for anyone who cares about health and social care in Northern Ireland. It states that systems and processes in place to assure the public in respect of patient safety prior to November 2016 failed. Crucially, opportunities to intervene in relation to Michael Watt’s practice were missed over a number of years.

“The Inquiry Panel believes that without the then Belfast Trust’s Medical Director’s response in December 2016 to concerns that had been raised, and more particularly in July 2017, there is no guarantee that the problems identified in the recall would have necessarily emerged.

“It is acknowledged in the report that changes have been initiated since the neurology recall to improve patient safety.

“The entire HSC system must continue building on these improvements, guided by the Inquiry Panel’s report.

“While the reputation of our health service has undoubtedly been tarnished, we must also be mindful of the high quality, compassionate care provided every day by dedicated and skilled staff. Thankfully, they are the norm.

“Robust processes and procedures are essential to identify and deal with errant and failing practitioners. This Inquiry Report has relevance right across the HSC and indeed the entire NHS, and I will be sharing its findings with my counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales. It also raises issues about the independent health sector and the GMC.

“Health care is of immense importance and as a result there are invariably very serious consequences when it goes wrong. We must always strive to learn from such cases, and take decisive action to ensure failings do not re-occur.

“That will be the absolute priority for me and for my Department.”