Don't penalise doctors for employers' failings

As a hand surgeon, I see that about a third of my patients are workers who have encountered industrial accidents.

Most have minor injuries involving just one fingertip or a finger. There is no good reason they cannot go back to modified duties within a few days, or at most after a week or two, when wounds have healed.

However, many continue to demand medical leave for weeks or months, even if their employers offer suitable duties (Docs reminded to give injured workers the rest they need; Oct 19).

This is in stark contrast to my patients running their own businesses or playing competitive sports, who have worse injuries but pester me to allow them to return to full activities after just a day or two.

According to the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), the onus is on the doctor to ensure that suitable light duties are available at the workplace before putting a worker on light duties.

Where previously doctors would give medical leave when only clinically necessary, now we are forced to issue it for any worker who claims he cannot return to light duties, even if his employers say these are available, as it is impossible for us to verify this.

Many of these workers are malingering. The stance of the Singapore Medical Council, MOM and MOH empowers them by discouraging doctors from calling out malingerers and returning them to work.

Non-governmental organisations lodging complaints about insufficient medical leave may be unwittingly aiding and abetting malingerers.

Doctors are not site inspectors.

Their role should be to only specify what duties are suitable.

It is the employers' responsibility to provide such duties or to tell the doctor they are not available, failing which, they - not the doctor - should be brought to task if the worker lodges a complaint of insufficient medical leave.

Errant doctors colluding with companies to provide minimal medical leave for all injuries regardless of severity in exchange for the privilege of treating their workers should be harshly dealt with along with the companies.

Ethical doctors seeking to do what is right by both the worker and the employer should not have hanging over their heads the threat of disciplinary action for not ensuring that appropriate light duties are available.

Andrew Yam Kean Tuck (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2018, with the headline 'Don't penalise doctors for employers' failings'. Print Edition | Subscribe