Chee Hong Tat criticises Paul Tambyah over allegations

Senior Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat has criticised Professor Paul Tambyah, a senior infectious diseases consultant, for remarks he made about what junior doctors are told when they complain about their work.

Prof Tambyah, who works at the National University Hospital (NUH) and is a member of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party, had said at a May 1 forum that the doctors "say that every time they complain about conditions in the public hospital, they are told, 'Oh you know, complain lah, you know we can hire somebody from South or South-east Asia who is willing to work for $3,000 a month'".

He also said: "Even in my own field, the junior doctors tell me this and I don't know how true it is."

Prof Tambyah made the remarks when he was speaking about how the lack of a minimum wage was affecting junior doctors. A minimum wage would level the playing field, he added at the event, which was organised by, a group offering support for the unemployed.

Yesterday, Mr Chee said in a Facebook post that Prof Tambyah, as a senior doctor, should have verified the truth and raised the problem.

"Instead of clarifying the facts with the junior doctors or surfacing his concerns to the management, he chose to repeat unsubstantiated allegations at a public conference. I find it disturbing that as a senior doctor, Prof Tambyah does not see anything wrong with this behaviour," he added.

Mr Chee asked Prof Tambyah for details about who made the remarks and what they said so that the ministry could look into the matter.

He also addressed the issue of temporary registration, which Prof Tambyah did not mention. But the issue was raised in an article on his speech by socio-political website The Independent, which criticised the Singapore Medical Council for allowing in doctors from medical schools not recognised here, by giving them temporary registration.

Mr Chee said foreign doctors who are under temporary registration make up less than 4 per cent of the doctor population in public hospitals. He said this is granted for training and for visiting experts, and similar arrangements exist in the United States, Britain and Australia. Mr Chee said: "While these doctors may supplement the hospital's workforce during their temporary stint in Singapore, they are not here to replace or compete with our local doctors."

When contacted yesterday, Prof Tambyah said his comments "are not untrue" and can be substantiated in several doctor chat groups. He added that he had raised the issue with the administrator in question "dozens of times", but to no effect.

Mr Chee also criticised Prof Tambyah for saying The Independent had misrepresented him. He said he had heard a recording of Prof Tambyah's speech and found the report accurate.

Prof Tambyah said he was misrepresented as he was referring to a hospital - not NUH - and not the entire public healthcare system. The Independent had reported: "Junior doctors had told him that every time they complain about conditions in public hospitals, the administrators don't seem perturbed by it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2017, with the headline 'Chee Hong Tat criticises Paul Tambyah over allegations'. Print Edition | Subscribe