SINGAPORE - Prominent cancer specialist Ang Peng Tiam of Parkway Cancer Centre, who had appealed to the Supreme Court against a Singapore Medical Council (SMC) fine of $25,000, has been given an eight-month suspension instead of the fine.
It would have been a 16-month suspension had the SMC acted on the complaint more expeditiously, said Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who delivered the Court of Three Judges' decision on Tuesday.
Two daughters of a former patient made a complaint against Dr Ang in 2010. The patient died in October that year. But the SMC served the notice of enquiry on Dr Ang in April 2015.
The SMC's disciplinary tribunal had found Dr Ang, 59, guilty of two of the charges: That he made false representation to the patient who was suffering from lung cancer that there was a "70 per cent" chance of responding to the treatment he suggested and that he failed to offer her surgery as an option.
The disciplinary tribunal found that Dr Ang "had no reasonable basis" for saying there was a 70 per cent chance of response and felt that he had "wrongly held out false hope" to the patient and her family.
It also found him guilty of not offering surgery when that was "the preferred initial treatment option".
A statement from the SMC on Wednesday (June 28) said the disciplinary tribunal found that there was an "intentional, deliberate departure from standards observed or approved by members of the profession of good repute and competency".
Dr Ang, who was Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's principal doctor in 1992 when he was treated for lymphoma, had claimed that he has seen about 16,000 new patients over the past 16 years, of whom 10 per cent to 15 per cent suffered from lung cancer.
The SMC felt that his actions "merit severe penalty" but given testimonials in favour of Dr Ang as well as his community work, it decided against a suspension.
Instead, it imposed a fine of $25,000, a censure, an undertaking not to repeat the offence and for him to pay 60 per cent of the cost of the proceedings.
Dr Ang appealed against the tribunal's decision to the Court of Three Judges which on Tuesday (June 27) upped his sentence from a fine to an eight-month suspension.
The SMC had also filed an appeal. It considered the penalty meted out by its disciplinary tribunal as light and had urged the court to impose a six-month suspension for each of the two offences for which Dr Ang had been found guilty.
Instead of taking his "eminence and seniority" as a mitigating factor, the court saw it as an "aggravating" factor and his "unblemished record" of more than 30 years had limited relevance in mitigation.
However, the court took into account the 4½ years it took the SMC to serve notice of enquiry on Dr Ang after receiving the complaint. This "inordinate delay" caused suffering to Dr Ang.
Justice Menon said the appropriate sentence in the light of the seriousness of the offence would have been a suspension of 16 months for the two charges. But given the long delay by the SMC, it halved the sentence to an aggregate of eight months.
TalkMed, which runs the Parkway Cancer Centre in which Dr Ang is the chief executive officer, informed the Singapore Exchange of the judgment on June 28.
It expressed disappointment with the verdict but assured that Dr Ang's patients will be well taken care of by Dr Khoo Kei Siong during his suspension.
It added that while Dr Ang will not be involved in patient care, he will "continue to lead the Group and develop other growth opportunities".