Surgeon given a week's jail for not paying $500,000 legal fees over disciplinary probes

Dr Pang Ah San disobeyed court orders to pay the Singapore Medical Council about $500,000 in legal costs.
Dr Pang Ah San disobeyed court orders to pay the Singapore Medical Council about $500,000 in legal costs. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A surgeon, who disobeyed court orders to pay the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) about $500,000 in legal costs, was on Wednesday (Sept 28) sentenced to a week's jail for contempt of court.

Dr Pang Ah San, 58, a general surgeon in private practice, was allowed to start serving the sentence next Monday (Oct 3) to give him time to make arrangements for his patients as well as the care of his mother, who has dementia.

The doctor owes the legal fees from two separate sets of disciplinary proceedings, in which he was found guilty of breaching ethical guidelines which state that doctors are not to offer remedies that are not generally accepted by the profession, except in approved clinical trials.

Between 2007 and 2009, he performed a procedure known as percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy, in which a tube is inserted into the stomach of patients who cannot swallow, on at least four elderly patients at Mount Alvernia Hospital.

Instead of the standard tube, Dr Pang used an experimental tube he had invented and taken out a patent for.

In 2012, he was fined $10,000 for using the tube on an 84-year-old patient, who died of pneumonia a few weeks after the procedure. In a second probe in 2014, he was suspended for six months and fined $10,000 for using the same device on three other patients.

For both sets of proceedings, he was ordered to pay the SMC's costs, totalling about $538,000.

The SMC, represented by lawyer Chang Man Phing, took steps to enforce the cost orders, including initiating bankruptcy proceedings. This application was dismissed after Dr Pang showed he had $1 million in the bank.

On Sept 13, the SMC sought to start contempt proceedings against Dr Pang for disobeying court orders to pay the costs and to disclose his assets. However, the High Court gave him two more weeks to comply.

On Wednesday, Dr Pang told the court he was "as constrained as an impecunious debtor".

When Ms Chang pointed out he had $1 million in the bank, was still practising and is the joint owner of at least one private property, Dr Pang clarified: "My constraint is not in terms of money." He did not elaborate.