Long medical leave not always necessary after surgery

I commend Transient Workers Count Too's charity towards foreign workers (MCs for injured workers: Err on the side of caution; Nov 1).

However, TWC2 is mistaken in assuming that all patients who undergo surgery need prolonged medical leave.

There are ample light tasks that can be performed by a worker with an injured hand even in construction companies, for example, tidying the office, light cleaning, taking stock, signalling, to name a few.

Increasingly, companies are offering these duties but many workers who can physically do them are refusing in favour of medical certificates (MCs).

These are clearly malingering, and many do abscond from their employers.

Their motives can be quite complex, and I do sympathise with some of them who have stories of abuse and pay being withheld by their employers. However, this is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Manpower, not the doctor.

In private clinics, a worker is usually accompanied by his employer, who may say that they have duties that are medically compatible with their condition. Therefore, the doctor is ethically obliged to certify them fit for light duties as specified instead of giving medical leave.

Workers who go to a restructured hospital for a second opinion commonly have absconded and are there without the employer. It is impossible for the doctor attending to them to do anything but give as much time off as they want because they do not have any information of what duties the employer is offering.

The doctor's ethical duty is only to treat the patient appropriately and to certify what duties he can or cannot do at any point in time. Doctors should not "err on the side of caution" on the basis of how the worker is being treated by their employer.

This is not ethical as it favours the worker over the employer for non-medical reasons that the doctor cannot verify.

I urge the Ministry of Manpower to do more to investigate and punish both errant employers who ignore their workers' rights and errant workers who abuse the system.

Dr Andrew Yam

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 03, 2018, with the headline 'Long medical leave not always necessary after surgery'. Print Edition | Subscribe