Singapore

Medical watchdog could have sitting judge for cases, says workgroup

Singapore Medical Council workgroup looking at having sitting judge and team of senior retired doctors for disciplinary cases

A workgroup tasked with improving the medical watchdog's disciplinary process is looking at having a sitting judge and a permanent team of senior retired doctors to judge disciplinary cases, and a screener who will ensure that the system is not bogged down by frivolous complaints.

The workgroup also wants to set up timelines that must be followed for the various steps in the complaints process unless an extension is obtained, as well as a time limit to when these can be made, it told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting with doctors yesterday.

Now, the only timeline is three months for the Singapore Medical Council's (SMC's) complaints committee to review a complaint. A member of the 12-person workgroup, which comprises lawyers, medical professionals and lay people, said this is seldom adhered to.

Mr Edwin Tong, Senior Minister of State for Health and Law, who was at the meeting at Mount Elizabeth Novena, also told reporters that long delays in hearing cases - often taking more than four years - are not acceptable as "justice delayed is justice denied".

The workgroup has met more than 1,000 doctors from seven other private hospitals and the three public clusters, and plans to talk to others like patient advocacy groups and medical specialist chapters in the Academy of Medicine before drafting its report, due to be out before the end of the year.

It was set up in March to look at both the disciplinary process and the issue of informed consent after two disciplinary judgments had doctors here up in arms.

In one case, a doctor was fined $100,000 for not telling the patient about the side effects of a commonly used steroid jab.

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In the other case, a doctor was fined $50,000 for releasing information about a patient without checking that a caller on the phone was her husband.

In the latter case, the SMC said in a statement yesterday that it will apply to the Court of Three Judges to quash the earlier conviction and fine against psychiatrist Dr Soo Shuenn Chiang.

The medical watchdog had said previously that it would ask the court to review the judgment by a disciplinary tribunal against him.

Yesterday, the SMC said new information received raises doubt over what happened.

Dr Soo, a psychiatrist at the National University Hospital, had been charged with giving a memo on a patient's medical condition to her brother, who had posed as her husband.

Since the case erupted, the patient's brother has put online his version of what happened.

He said in his Facebook post that while he was the man who spoke to the doctor, the patient's husband was with him and had agreed with what he was doing.

The SMC then approached both the patient's brother and husband for their statements and it said it will be providing the court with the new information in its application to have the conviction set aside.

Meanwhile, the workgroup looking at improving the SMC's disciplinary process will also clarify what exactly constitutes professional misconduct, which is the top reason for disciplinary hearings.

Complaints that are outside of this, such as simple negligence or even a poor bedside manner, might be better served through mediation.

Mr Tong said the SMC could work with the Singapore Mediation Centre on this.

The workgroup also suggests a single panel of experts for disciplinary hearings, instead of each side getting its own. Having a High Court judge preside would also promote consistency in judgments.

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MEDICAL & HEALTH