Singapore

SMC asks for more time to appeal doctor's $50,000 fine

About 9,000 doctors sign petition in support as they speak out against tribunal's judgment

The Singapore Medical Council (SMC) has applied to the High Court for more time to appeal against the decision of a disciplinary tribunal to fine a doctor $50,000.

It is the second time this year that the medical profession's watchdog has made such an appeal. No such appeals had ever been made previously, and in both cases, the time for either side to appeal had passed.

In both cases, the disciplinary tribunal's judgment prompted doctors here to speak out against what they saw as a major step back in how they care for patients.

In both cases, the SMC is asking for the penalty to be reduced. Tribunals, made up of doctors and legally trained professionals, are convened by the SMC, after which they operate independently.

In the latest case, Dr Soo Shuenn Chiang, who was an associate consultant psychiatrist at the National University Hospital (NUH) at the time of the incident in March 2015, had given a memo on a patient's medical condition to a man who posed as her husband.

He said he needed the memo to get her to the Institute of Mental Health as she was suicidal.

The man was in fact her brother, and he used the memo to take out a personal protection order against the patient. She filed a complaint to the SMC against the doctor.

The SMC had asked for a $20,000 fine, but the tribunal set it at $50,000. The latter blamed the doctor for not verifying the caller's identity before handing over the memo with the patient's confidential medical condition. It said patient confidentiality is sacrosanct.

The doctors' petition, which has garnered close to 9,000 signatures, said: "Dr Soo was the Good Samaritan who acted in his professional capacity to help someone access mental healthcare promptly.

"Most of us, in his position, would have done the same in the same manner because we are doctors aiming to heal, not investigators aiming to verify truth."

The Ministry of Health said a few days ago it was aware of the petition and is looking into the case. NUH made a police report against the impostor on Wednesday. The SMC issued a statement yesterday announcing its decision to appeal against the judgment.

A similar appeal last month asked the High Court to reduce the penalty for a doctor who had been fined $100,000 for not telling the patient about the side effects of a common steroid injection.

In this case, the SMC had asked for a five-month suspension. Doctors who protested against the judgment said many of them do not tell patients of side effects as they are rare and transient.

They argued that if they needed to tell patients of all the side effects of all the medication, it would be an information dump of little use to patients.

The SMC statement said its application for this case to be reviewed has been granted, and a hearing by a Court of Three Judges is scheduled for the second quarter of this year.

COURT & CRIME