Businessman loses lawsuit against cancer centre, surgeon

Mr Hii (left), a prominent Malaysian businessman, had claimed that Dr Ooi (above), a Singapore surgeon, told him he definitely had cancer in the pancreas and that surgery was his only option - which Dr Ooi denies. Mr Hii had surgery to remove parts o
Mr Hii (above), a prominent Malaysian businessman, had claimed that Dr Ooi, a Singapore surgeon, told him he definitely had cancer in the pancreas and that surgery was his only option - which Dr Ooi denies. ST FILE PHOTOS
Mr Hii (left), a prominent Malaysian businessman, had claimed that Dr Ooi (above), a Singapore surgeon, told him he definitely had cancer in the pancreas and that surgery was his only option - which Dr Ooi denies. Mr Hii had surgery to remove parts o
Dr Ooi (above), a Singapore surgeon whom Mr Hii claimed had told him he definitely had cancer in the pancreas and that surgery was his only option - which Dr Ooi denies.ST FILE PHOTOS

He claimed he was told he had pancreatic cancer, but judge finds no evidence such diagnosis was mentioned

SINGAPORE - A prominent Malaysian businessman who sued Singapore surgeon London Lucien Ooi and the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) for misdiagnosing him and giving wrong advice on his condition has lost his High Court case.

Datuk Clement Hii Chii Kok had undergone complex surgery in August 2010 to remove parts of five organs. He alleged he had been told by the defendants that he suffered from "pancreatic cancer" and that surgery was the only option.

But in a 123-page judgment yesterday, Justice Chan Seng Onn found the evidence did not bear out the claim. No mention was made of a diagnosis of cancer in the discussions and conclusions of the NCSS' tumour board, the medical notes recorded by Dr Ooi or the e-mail correspondence between Mr Hii and his doctors.

Instead, Mr Hii's possible diagnoses were referred to as neuroendocrine tumours, pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours, or hyperplasia, an abnormal but benign concentration of cells. His own e-mail messages showed he knew the appropriate terminology and was unlikely to have misunderstood the doctors, noted the judge.

Mr Hii, who studied law and is a former journalist, is managing director of the Kuala Lumpur public-listed SEGi University group and executive chairman of investment company HCK Capital Group.

In July 2010, his doctors in Malaysia advised him to go for a gallium scan at the NCCS to investigate nodules in his lungs. A gallium scan is a diagnostic test in which a radioactive tracer is used to look for infection, inflammation and tumours.

Mr Hii was told that the increased uptake of the tracer in two pancreatic lesions could suggest pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours, but no definite mass could be seen. A further MRI scan showed no mass in the lesions.

Mr Hii consulted two oncologists and was referred to Dr Ooi, a specialist in hepatobiliary and pancreatic surgery and surgical oncology.

In his suit, Mr Hii claimed that Dr Ooi had told him that he definitely had cancer in the pancreas and that surgery was his only option.

Dr Ooi, who is defended by Senior Counsel Edwin Tong, denies this.

In discussions, the tumour board felt Mr Hii might have tumours or hyperplasia, a rare but less serious condition. He was given the options of waiting for six months or surgically resecting the lesions. After consulting Dr Ooi, Mr Hii decided that he wanted "aggressive treatment" and proceeded with surgery. Tests afterwards found he had hyperplasia. Two weeks after he was discharged, he suffered complications and had two operations in Malaysia.

Justice Chan found Mr Hii was never told by the defendants he had cancer. "This is nothing but a bald allegation levied against the defendants by the plaintiff in a futile attempt to fortify his claim," he said.

Justice Chan dismissed his claim that NCCS, represented by Ms Kuah Boon Theng, was negligent in arriving at the diagnoses. He found the diagnoses "reasonable" and supported by informed experts.

He noted that the result of Mr Hii's gallium scan, the gold standard in diagnosing neuroendocrine tumours, indicated malignancy.

And while Mr Hii contended that a test using endoscopic ultrasound should have been carried out, the judge found that it would not have helped in differentiating between hyperplasia and tumours.

Based on the diagnoses, it was "proper" for Dr Ooi to recommend surgery and to resect the lesions, the judge said. He also found that the defendants' advice to Mr Hii was "very thorough".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2016, with the headline 'Businessman loses lawsuit against cancer centre, surgeon'. Print Edition | Subscribe