Orthopaedic surgeon suspended by Court of Three Judges for professional misconduct

SINGAPORE - A medical practitioner previously acquitted of issuing insufficient hospitalisation leave to a construction worker who had a fractured hand and inappropriately certifying him to be fit for light duties at work, was on Tuesday (May 10) sentenced to six months' suspension after an appeal by the Singapore Medical Council (SMC).

The SMC had filed an appeal to the Court of Three Judges against the decision last year of a Disciplinary Tribunal to acquit Dr Wong Him Choon, 51, of professional misconduct.

The tribunal had acquitted Dr Wong, an orthopaedic surgeon at the Raffles Orthopaedic Centre in Raffles Hospital, after finding there was no conclusive evidence to show he had failed to comply with the applicable standards of conduct in managing the patient, a construction worker who had injured his right hand in an accident at his work site.

The worker was taken to Raffles Hospital after the accident on Sept 3, 2011, where Dr Wong assessed he had sustained a distal radius fracture and a metacarpal fracture.

Dr Wong performed surgery on the patient's hand at around 1am on Sept 4, and the patient was discharged around 1pm on the same day.

He was issued with a medical certificate to cover the period of hospitalisation and was also certified fit for light duties for a month from Sept 5, 2011.

Under the Medical Registration Act, Dr Wong faced one charge of professional misconduct for giving insufficient hospitalisation leave to the patient despite the severity of his injury and finding him fit for light duties at work immediately after surgery.

The tribunal, which heard the case between June and September last year, found there were no specific guidelines on the giving of medical leave. Also, the amount of medical leave given is exercised by the doctor at his discretion.

But it was agreed that some of the primary factors a doctor should consider before deciding on the type or duration of medical leave include, among others, the type and severity of the illness or injury, the method of treatment used, the amount of recovery time needed post-treatment, and the nature of the patient's occupation.

The tribunal examined whether there was professional misconduct on the part of Dr Wong based on these factors, which would constitute the applicable standards of conduct observed or approved by members of the medical profession, and it found the evidence inconclusive.

The Court of Three Judges, however, noted that Dr Wong had not considered the relevant factors in issuing the medical certificate and had disregarded the patient's well-being.

It ordered him to be censured and suspended from practice for six months, with the suspension to take effect immediately. Dr Wong would also have to bear the SMC's costs for the tribunal's inquiry and the appeal, and give an undertaking to the council that he will abstain in future from any similar conduct.

calyang@sph.com.sg