Doctors told to give injured workers enough leave

Manpower and Health ministries send out reminder; SMC probing some of the complaints

The Manpower and Health ministries have acted on complaints that some injured workers are getting too little medical leave from doctors because their bosses want to avoid reporting workplace accidents.

Now all doctors here have been reminded to give injured workers the days off they deserve and warned of the consequences if they fail to do so.

The Singapore Medical Council (SMC) is investigating some of the complaints, director of medical services K. Satku and commissioner for workplace safety and health Ho Siong Hin said in a joint letter sent out last month.

They did not provide details, but groups helping foreign workers told The Sunday Times they see a steady stream of injured workers who seek help after getting too few days off from private doctors.

Some get only two or three days off at clinics usually contracted by their employers, but when they seek further treatment at restructured hospitals for the same injury, they get weeks or even months off to recover.

The help groups welcomed the government action to get doctors to do the right thing.

The government letter reminded doctors that workplace safety regulations require all accidents which make a worker unfit for work for more than three consecutive days or result in death to be reported to the Manpower Ministry.

"To avoid reporting these accidents, some employers may request medical practitioners to issue less than four consecutive days of medical leave or to issue light duty instead of medical leave," it said.

Issuing medical leave carries with it the "responsibility of ensuring that the patient deserves it on proper medical grounds".

Rather than be influenced by employers or workers, it said doctors should rely on good clinical assessment and give medical leave "commensurate with the nature and severity of the worker's injury".

"Medical practitioners who have issued medical certificates inadequate for the nature of the medical condition and are complained against may be the subject of disciplinary inquiries by the SMC," it warned.

Doctors were also urged to report employers who try to circumvent accident-reporting rules by influencing how much medical leave their injured workers should get.

There were 11,113 workplace injuries reported here last year - almost 1,000 more than in 2011.

Dr Andrew Chin, who heads the department of hand surgery at the Singapore General Hospital, told The Sunday Times he sees between one and two injured workers every month who were given less medical leave at a private clinic than they clinically deserve.

"The medical leave given should depend on the specialist's assessment at the time of the worker's presentation, test results and relevant previous medical data and records available," he said.

Singapore Medical Association ethics expert Dr T. Thirumoorthy said medical certificates (MCs) should be based on objective medical assessment and not other considerations, such as who is paying for the treatment.

"A doctor's commercial relationship with the company may come in conflict with his professional obligations to the patient," he said. "Without a doubt, a doctor's primary obligation should be to serve the welfare and best interests of the patient."

radhab@sph.com.sg

Injured workers tell stories of leave denied