Doctor suspended for four months and fined for inappropriate prescription of sleeping pills

A file photo of sleeping pills. A doctor was suspended for four months and fined $15,000 over charges relating to the inappropriate prescription of sleeping pills.
A file photo of sleeping pills. A doctor was suspended for four months and fined $15,000 over charges relating to the inappropriate prescription of sleeping pills. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A general practitioner (GP) was suspended for four months and fined $15,000 over a raft of charges relating to the inappropriate prescription of sleeping pills. Seventy-eight patients were involved.

Dr Heng Boon Wah Joseph, 66, a GP at Heng Clinic & Surgery in Bedok Reservoir Road, pleaded guilty to 47 charges of professional misconduct for failing to exercise due care in the management and treatment of his patients, the Singapore Medical Council said in statement on Tuesday (Sept 20). A further 31 charges were taken into consideration by the council's Disciplinary Tribunal.

The charges include the inappropriate prescription of hypnotic medication - or sleeping pills - to his patients, and failing to refer his patients to a medical specialist or psychiatrist.

The Singapore Medical Council said it held an inquiry into Dr Heng on July 26, which arose from a complaint on Dec 30, 2011, from the Health Sciences Authority to the council.

In determining the sentence for Dr Heng, the tribunal considered the substantial number of patients involved in the charges, and the number of instances of inappropriate prescription of sleeping pills, which were given over a relatively short period of about three months.

The tribunal also considered instances where Dr Heng continued prescribing sleeping pills to patients when there was reason to suspect drug dependence or abuse.

In mitigation, counsel for Dr Heng noted, among other things, that he was remorseful, had pleaded guilty early, cooperated fully during investigations, contributed to the underprivileged in society and was given good testimonials by his patients.

Besides the suspension and fine, Dr Heng was censured, ordered to give a written undertaking to the Singapore Medical Council that he will not engage in the conduct complained about, and pay the costs and expenses relating to the proceedings, including the costs of the solicitors to the council.