Insurance for all doctors may become compulsory

The Singapore Medical Council (SMC), together with the Ministry of Health, is studying a proposal on making insurance coverage compulsory for all doctors.
The Singapore Medical Council (SMC), together with the Ministry of Health, is studying a proposal on making insurance coverage compulsory for all doctors. PHOTO: ST FILE

SMC, MOH studying proposal on requiring protection against claims if things go wrong

The Singapore Medical Council (SMC), together with the Ministry of Health, is studying a proposal on making insurance coverage compulsory for all doctors.

Such cover protects doctors against any claims by patients should things go wrong. It also protects patients as they know they will be indemnified if the problem was caused by the doctor.

Such insurance covers not only the cost of court cases but also any reimbursement that might have to be made to patients or their families. The doctor also has the option to settle rather than to fight a case for fear of bad publicity.

Although the majority of doctors do buy such insurance coverage, not all do so because it is not obligatory and the cost of premiums can be very high.

Insurance that covers doctors who do procedures deemed to be "high risk" costs tens of thousands of dollars a year. These procedures include aesthetic surgery, neurosurgery and bariatric surgery, where the size of the stomach is surgically reduced to combat obesity.

It was a case of bariatric surgery gone wrong that recently highlighted the fact that not all doctors are insured, or insured sufficiently.

The private-sector surgeon who carried out bariatric surgery on an obese patient had not been insured for that procedure, although he had insurance for general surgery.

  • $500k

    Estimated amount in hospital bills of a patient in a case of bariatric surgery gone wrong. The patient spent weeks in intensive care and needed corrective operations. 

    $200k

    Amount to be paid to the patient, who initially wanted to sue the surgeon but learnt that the latter was not covered by his insurer and did not have much money to pay him should he win the case. 

Something went wrong and the patient ended up in intensive care for several weeks, required several corrective operations and chalked up close to $500,000 in hospital bills. The patient wanted to sue the surgeon, but found that the surgeon was not covered by his insurer and did not have much money to pay him should he win the case.

They settled for a public apology and a payment of $200,000, half of which is to be paid in monthly instalments of $3,000.

When the story ran in The Straits Times last month, the SMC said the law does allow it to require proper insurance coverage as a condition to allow doctors to practise, but it has not exercised that right.

Its spokesman explained: "Section 36(7) of the Medical Registration Act allows the SMC, with the minister's approval, to require that doctors take out and maintain insurance when applying for the grant or renewal of their practising certificates.

"The SMC has not exercised this at present."

Now, however, the SMC said that it "is currently working with the Ministry of Health to look into the proposal of mandating insurance for doctors".

When asked for details such as how it would ensure that doctors have sufficient insurance coverage, the SMC spokesman said: "As the proposal is being studied, we are unable to elaborate further on the matter."

Should the SMC decide to make having proper insurance coverage a requirement, the change will affect only doctors in private practice, who number more than 4,000, as all doctors in the public service are covered by the institutions that employ them.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 27, 2017, with the headline 'Insurance for all docs may become compulsory'. Print Edition | Subscribe