Singapore

Over 1,000 doctors appeal against suspension of paediatrician who failed to diagnose serious childhood disease

Doctors expressed their "grave reservations" with an SMC disciplinary tribunal's decision to suspend Dr Chia


In an unprecedented move, more than 1,000 doctors have petitioned the Director of Medical Services to revoke the three-month suspension of a paediatrician for failing to diagnose a serious childhood disease in a toddler.

The decision by the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) on Dr Chia Foong Lin, a private practitioner on call at Gleneagles Hospital for the case, was upheld by the Supreme Court last month.

The petition, started on July 4, was sent yesterday to Associate Professior Benjamin Ong, who as Director of Medical Services at the Ministry of Health, is the top medical official in the country.

In it, the doctors expressed their "grave reservations" with an SMC disciplinary tribunal's decision to suspend Dr Chia, a paediatrician of 23 years.

They said: "We respect the judgment, but we strongly feel the punishment was too harsh."

Dr Chia had been found guilty by the tribunal of failing to diagnose a one-year-old with Kawasaki disease (KD), an acquired illness that could potentially cause heart problems.

It suspended her from practice for three months, the minimum suspension possible for gross negligence in not diagnosing and treating the child correctly.

She appealed to the Court of Three Judges, which upheld the tribunal's decision.

In upholding the disciplinary tribunal's decision, the court had said: "It is crucial for a paediatrician to maintain a high index of suspicion in relation to KD."

It added: "If she had kept an open mind and maintained a proper appreciation of the symptoms related to KD or incomplete KD, and not been consumed by her own initial diagnosis of viral fever, she would not have failed to undertake the requisite tests to exclude KD.

"It was not simply an error of judgment but a serious oversight."

It is believed that this is the first time so many doctors have come out in support of a colleague.

The petitioners said they were concerned by the severity of her punishment and argued that a censure or warning would have been more appropriate to raise awareness and vigilance among doctors.

The SMC, meanwhile, has defended the judgment of its disciplinary tribunal (DT).

It told The Straits Times that Dr Chia had "at least three occasions of serious lapses" involving the patient.

As a result, Dr Chia "fell short of the reasonable standard of due care and attention expected of her".

As to the petition from the doctors, the SMC said under the Medical Registration Act "there is no appealing the High Court's decision and, therefore, the DT cannot consider withdrawing the order of suspension".

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