Hospitals give too much sick leave for injuries: Bosses

Mr Ripon Sheikh Mokles Sheikh, who broke his finger in March, got a second opinion at SGH and nearly a year of medical leave. -- PHOTO: SIN NORM ENGINEERING
Mr Ripon Sheikh Mokles Sheikh, who broke his finger in March, got a second opinion at SGH and nearly a year of medical leave. -- PHOTO: SIN NORM ENGINEERING

But doctors say they are objective in assessing workers' conditions

BOSSES are crying foul that foreign workers are getting too much medical leave from hospitals, which in turn insist that their doctors are simply doing their jobs.

More than 10 companies in the marine and construction industries showed The Straits Times injury reports from the last two years of 20 foreign workers, who received several months to a year off for cuts and fractures.

For instance, Sin Norm Engineering highlighted how one of its workers, who fractured his finger in March last year, was given one day's medical leave and a few days of light duty after an operation at Jurong's West Point Hospital, which is near shipyards.

But when he went to Singapore General Hospital (SGH) on his own, he received nearly a year of medical leave.

The employers believe these workers exaggerate their injuries to fool doctors.

"Some of them can act better than film stars," said Mr S. Jiwa, director of Mobco Marine.

One of his workers who received six days of medical leave from West Point Hospital after fracturing his hand in August, got almost four months' leave from Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH).

Kiat Seng Shipbuilding and Engineering director James Lee said: "They can walk fast and hop off and on lorries. But in front of the doctors, they will suddenly become weak."

In another case, a worker employed by Guan Soon Heng Marine Engineering cut his finger at work in February last year and got a day's medical leave from Gleneagles Medical Centre. But subsequent visits to Changi General Hospital (CGH) and SGH got him almost seven months off work.

When contacted, hospitals rebutted claims that their doctors are too lenient in issuing medical leave, insisting that everything is done objectively.

They also reviewed the medical certificates issued by their doctors for the above three cases, and found them to be appropriate.

"The duration of medical leave depends on the specialist's clinical assessment of the injury, test results and relevant medical history available," said Dr Andrew Chin, who heads the department of hand surgery at SGH.

"It also depends on what the patient has communicated to the doctor about his nature of work and environment."

TTSH head of orthopaedic surgery Ganesan Naidu said: "Fractures of the hand would normally take a few months to heal sufficiently to allow for heavy duty work after surgery."

Referring to the Guan Soon Heng case, a CGH spokesman explained that the injury was "more serious than a minor cut", adding that hand injuries can be more complicated than they seem.

The employers say they have seen a rise in injured workers running off to get a second opinion. They used to have one or two workers running away each year.

But since the start of this year, each has seen an average of six workers who refused to stay in company housing after being injured. Employers have to shell out about $1,200 every month for workers on medical leave - the money going to salary, government levy, and cost of housing, food and medical treatment.

But they also have to pay higher insurance premiums if more of their workers seek injury compensation. The Manpower Ministry (MOM) also may not allow them to hire more foreign workers if they have many runaway cases.

Ms Debbie Fordyce, a volunteer at migrants' organisation Transient Workers Count Too, believes some workers are advised by various parties to exaggerate their injuries to claim a bigger injury payout.

In other cases, workers end up making their injuries worse by moonlighting to earn more money even while on medical leave - a point also raised by employers.

She said: "Many injured workers are still in pain after a few days of medical leave. But they dare not tell their employers as they worry about being seen as skiving. So they decide to run away but have to moonlight to survive."

Singapore Medical Association ethics expert T. Thirumoorthy said doctors should exercise good clinical and ethical judgment when giving medical certificates. "How much sick leave a worker gets should be based on objective assessment," he said.

Meanwhile, the bosses say they are not backing down. They hope MOM will crack down on moonlighting workers and those who exaggerate injuries. Said Sin Norm Engineering managing director Wong Chan Ching: "This problem must stop. It is like a disease that keeps spreading."