Foreign workers get shorter MCs because ...
Employers of injured workers ask for shorter sick leave to avoid reporting accident to MOM
A worker fell 2.2m and fractured his back and spine, but he was given only two days of medical leave.
Another worker, whose leg was struck by a steel beam, was not given medical leave for his fractured limb.
These are just a couple of the cases non-governmental organisation HealthServe has seen this year, said its communication manager Nhaca Le Schulze.
Out of the work injury cases HealthServe saw this year, 31 per cent are related to inappropriately-issued medical certificates.
This issue was thrust into the spotlight again following the suspension of an orthopaedic surgeon from Raffles Hospital on Tuesday.
Such cases, which Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) calls "short MCs", are a recurring problem.
In 2013, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) reminded employers not to influence doctors to give injured workers shorter sick leave than necessary.
The e-mail bulletin, which went out to 28,000 workplace safety and health practitioners, came after an earlier reminder by MOM and the Health Ministry telling all doctors to give injured workers appropriate medical leave.
The ministries had acted following complaints that some workers were not given sufficient medical leave so that their employers could avoid reporting the accidents to MOM.
The bulletin also pointed out that doctors have been asked to report employers who try to influence the number of days of medical leave.
Since January 2014, employers must report to the MOM all accidents which render their employees unfit for work for more than three days, regardless of whether these were consecutive days.
Mr Jolovan Wham, executive director of Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economic (Home), told The New Paper yesterday: "Insufficient medical leave is a widespread problem in the construction industry.
"Doctors and lawyers whom I talk to are frustrated about it, too."
Both Mr Wham and Ms Le Schulze see the suspension of the Raffles Hospital surgeon as encouraging.
"It's a significant development, and we look forward to seeing more unethical doctors who compromise a patient's well-being for money brought to justice," said Mr Wham.
"Home will also be filing more complaints."
Ms Le Schulze said: "We hope the suspension will de-incentivise doctors in the future from colluding with employers to exploit workers.
"It's a good start and we hope to see more errant doctors suspended."
While the suspension shows that there is a legal recourse for such cases, TWC2 executive committee member Debbie Fordyce pointed out that the process of taking this up to the authorities is too long and laborious.
The suspension case, for instance, took five years.
"That's a problem because during this time, I think these (errant) doctors are doing quite a strong business among employers with injured workers," said Ms Fordyce.
"It's a way the doctors drum up their business. It's a way for employers to ensure they don't have to report any accidents to MOM. It's a win-win situation between (errant) doctors and employers."
TWC2 head of research John Gee said: "Some of these companies wish to minimise the cost of treating a worker and to retain an accident-free record.
"Seriousness of the injury is determined by the length of time required off work rather than the specific nature of an injury."
The situation worsens when medical records are not released to foreign workers who go to private clinics or hospitals, said Ms Fordyce.
Echoing her sentiments, Mr Gee said: "Our perspective is that a doctor's primary obligation is to the patients, not the person or institution that foots the bill for the medical treatment or examinations."
A spokesman for the Migrant Workers' Centre, an initiative of the National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers' Federation, said the court's ruling acts as a reminder to all medical practitioners of their duty to patients.
"We hope it sets a precedent that leads to a more open and responsive system to manage and adjudicate over similar complaints in future," added the spokesman.
We look forward to seeing more unethical doctors who compromise patient well-being for money brought to justice.
- Mr Jolovan Wham, executive director of Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economic, which initiated the complaint against Dr Wong Him Choon
Doc convicted of professional misconduct after appeal
Orthopaedic surgeon Wong Him Choon, 51, was suspended for six months following a Court of Three Judges ruling on Tuesday.
The Raffles Hospital doctor was convicted of professional misconduct for failing to exercise due care in managing his patient.
The ruling overturned a decision made in an earlier Singapore Medical Council (SMC) disciplinary tribunal that acquitted Dr Wong of any professional misconduct.
The proceedings began with a complaint from migrant workers rights group Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) against Dr Wong to the SMC.
Dr Wong saw a worker on Sept 3, 2011, and found that the worker had fractures in his wrist and palm.
He operated on the worker early the next day and discharged him on the day of the operation. A medical certificate (MC) was issued to cover the day of his hospitalisation.
Dr Wong also certified the worker fit for light duties for a month from Sept 5 - the day after his surgery.
He reviewed the patient on Sept 7, 2011, and scheduled a further review a month later.
But before the scheduled review on Oct 5, the worker rushed to the Accident & Emergency department of Changi General Hospital on Sept 11 and Sept 23 as he was experiencing pain.
He received hospitalisation leave from Sept 11 to Sept 30, 2011.
The worker also returned to Raffles Hospital on Sept 21, 2011, where he was seen by another orthopaedic surgeon who noted that the patient had "presented stating discomfort over the K-wire sites".
K-wires are stainless steel pins inserted to hold bone fragments together.
During the scheduled review on Oct 5, Dr Wong issued the worker with an MC to cover his absence from work till Nov 20 and backdated the MC from Sept 6.
Initially, Dr Wong pleaded not guilty to a charge of professional misconduct for failing to exercise due care in the managing his patient.
The SMC disciplinary tribunal hearing held last year heard that the applicable standard for someone with injuries like the worker was two weeks' MC.
It also agreed that Dr Wong had failed in his duty to discuss with the patient and establish if there were adequate conditions for his rest and rehabilitation or his ability to carry out light duties before certifying him fit for it.
Dr Wong, however, was acquitted as there was insufficient proof that his actions were intentional and deliberate.
The SMC then appealed to the Court of Three Judges against the tribunal's decision, which was overturned on Tuesday.
The court found that Dr Wong had considered irrelevant factors in issuing the MC and disregarded the worker's well-being, SMC said in a press release.
Aside from the suspension, Dr Wong will be censured and will give SMC an undertaking to abstain from the same or similar conduct.
He will also cover SMC's costs for the legal proceedings.
A cement wall fell on a worker, resulting in back and leg injuries. He was given only two days of medical leave before being called back to work.
A construction worker injured his left wrist and was taken to a clinic in a private hospital. The Bangladeshi was given two days of medical leave and five days of light duty.
After a week, he was still in pain. Fearing that returning to work would worsen his injury, he returned to the clinic but was not given more medical leave.
He eventually sought treatment at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) where he underwent tests and was given 76 days off, plus six months of light duty. He was also offered $8,400 as compensation.
A construction worker had part of his right index finger amputated after an accident. The 31-year-old was treated at a private hospital.
The doctor gave him two days of medical leave after the amputation, and deemed him fit for light duty for the next 20 days.
A Chinese national fractured his left thumb and was taken to a private orthopaedic surgeon.
The 36-year-old's wound was stitched and cleaned, and he was given two days' medical leave, followed by five days of light duty.
Still concerned about his injury, the construction worker sought a second opinion at SGH.
There, the doctors gave him seven days of leave on his first visit.
On follow-up visits, he was given hospitalisation leave in separate tranches, amounting to 78 days.
A construction worker fractured his left middle finger and was treated by a private doctor, but not given any medical leave. Within three weeks, he still couldn't move his finger so he went to a public hospital. An X-ray found the last treatment to be sub-standard.
SOURCE: HEALTHSERVE, THE STRAITS TIMES