If quality of care falls during legal process, who's to blame?

Professor Chong Siow Ann's article shows how a doctor may suffer psychologically while legally challenged.
Professor Chong Siow Ann's article shows how a doctor may suffer psychologically while legally challenged.PHOTO: ST FILE

Professor Chong Siow Ann's article (When doctors are sued, March 19) clearly shows that the negative impact on a doctor's mental well-being from legal action against him, whether through the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) or the courts, is far from insignificant.

Prof Chong recounted his own brief experience, when he had to respond to the complaints committee of the SMC, and fortunately was "spared the ordeal of facing its disciplinary tribunal" after the committee concluded there were no grounds to the complaint.

He also wrote about how malpractice suits "inflict a devastating toll on doctors", with the "enormously distressing experience" likely even to cause depression. Not unexpectedly, while the legal process continues, the doctor's practice - and with it the quality of care he can offer to his patients - also suffers.

Interestingly, there was another article of a similar nature, where the "inordinate delay" by the SMC's complaints committee in referring a doctor's case to the disciplinary tribunal was such that a doctor alleged he had suffered "substantial prejudice" (Court rejects doc's bid to halt probe; urges against undue delay, March 19). In this case, the events under consideration were said to have occurred in 2009.

The committee's probes started in May 2014 and, while investigating, it "obtained 13 extensions of time, of which eight were made after an already extended deadline".

Might the quality of care offered by the doctor during all these years have been negatively impacted by the mental pressure he was under and, if so, who should the affected patients blame?

It was also reported that this delay might have been due to the committee probing "seven discrete complaints against various medical practitioners", and not from "the complexity of the matter or serious difficulties it encountered in conducting its enquiry".

This once again points to the self-regulatory process within the medical profession that indeed needs attention.

Prof Chong's article shows how a doctor may suffer psychologically while legally challenged. I wonder how much worse this must be when a case is so extensively prolonged.

Lee Pheng Soon (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2019, with the headline 'If quality of care falls during legal process, who's to blame?'. Print Edition | Subscribe