Errant doctors can expect deterrent sentences: Top court

The court suspended Dr Wong Him Choon, 51, an orthopaedic surgeon at Raffles Hospital for six months for professional misconduct, and ordered him to undertake not to repeat such conduct in future.
The court suspended Dr Wong Him Choon, 51, an orthopaedic surgeon at Raffles Hospital for six months for professional misconduct, and ordered him to undertake not to repeat such conduct in future.PHOTO: RAFFLES MEDICAL GROUP

Errant doctors can expect to face deterrent sentences, the top court has warned, in explaining why it overturned a medical tribunal's decision in a misconduct case.

"Public interest considerations weigh heavily in imposing deterrent sentences on errant doctors who are found guilty of professional misconduct," said the Court of Three Judges comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judges of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Andrew Phang. "This court has in fact given fair notice of its intention to recalibrate sentences across professional misconduct cases."

It cited three past cases involving errant doctors where the sentences were lenient and "should have in fact been longer". Justice Phang was writing on the court's behalf in judgment grounds released yesterday.

Following a Singapore Medical Council (SMC) appeal, the court in May reversed the acquittal of Dr Wong Him Choon after finding that a disciplinary tribunal erred over his management of construction worker Fan Mao Bing, who had broken his hand in a fall. The court suspended the 51-year-old orthopaedic surgeon at Raffles Hospital for six months for professional misconduct, and ordered him to undertake not to repeat such conduct in future.

Dr Wong gave Mr Fan just two days' medical leave to cover his hospital stay for surgery and certified him fit for a month's light duties on Sept 4, 2011. But light duties were unavailable, and when Mr Fan saw him on Oct 5, Dr Wong backdated the leave to cover Sept 6 to Nov 20, 2011.

The court said Dr Wong was trying to hide his mistake of "failing to ensure there were adequate conditions for rest and rehabilitation".

It agreed with the SMC that Dr Wong's main concern "was not the patient's welfare" but "advancing the interests of the employer ".

Justice Phang added: "It should not be the case that a patient has to 'kneel and beg' (as the patient in fact did, according to Dr Wong) for medical leave that he was in any case entitled to on proper clinical grounds."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2016, with the headline 'Errant docs can expect deterrent sentences: Top court'. Print Edition | Subscribe