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Doctors owe patients a duty of care

A doctor owes his patient a duty of care in deciding whether to undertake the case, what treatment to give and the administration of that treatment.

He is expected to use his special knowledge and skills in the most appropriate manner, keeping in mind the interests of the patient who has entrusted his life to him.

A breach of this duty may be considered negligence or assault, and the patient may recover damages from the doctor (Surgeon who initialled patients' livers convicted; Dec 17).

The patient must give the doctor his informed consent - a permission granted in full knowledge of the possible consequences, risks and benefits.

Hence, a doctor who plants an unwanted kiss on a female patient under anaesthesia, performs a circumcision on a baby without the parents' approval, or etches his initials on a patient's liver would, prima facie, be liable for assault.

Heng Cho Choon

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 24, 2017, with the headline 'Doctors owe patients a duty of care'. Print Edition | Subscribe