SMC's appeal for leniency a positive step

Dr Lim Lian Arn.

The fact that the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) has appealed for a more lenient sentence for orthopaedic surgeon Lim Lian Arn is a positive step for the council and the medical fraternity (SMC appeals for leniency for doctor fined $100,000, May 10).

It is a promising sign when the leadership is willing to reverse its decision and review its mistakes.

To err is human, no matter what power and authority the SMC holds, and having the humility to admit mistakes will win the SMC greater respect and trust from all doctors.

While the SMC's disciplinary tribunal may mete out fair and just sentences, these are still open to error, especially considering that disciplinary tribunals often comprise non-experts and, at times, the opinions of the expert witnesses are inadequately assessed.

Doctors are generally peace-loving and reasonable, and patients' welfare is of utmost importance to them.

The petition to the Ministry of Health earlier this year signed by several thousand doctors, including a number of relevant experts, is not a hostile challenge to the SMC, but rather a valid plea towards righting a wrong with due conscience and integrity.

There is no shame in admitting and correcting mistakes.

One should be thankful that the petition has brought about positive outcomes for both doctors and the SMC.

It is also timely to remind the disciplinary tribunal that there is no one-size-fits-all sentencing or grading of penalties. Clearly, being suspended from practice and paying a fine are not equitable. Any period of suspension carries with it negative repercussions that go beyond just a loss of income.

Medical knowledge, skills and expertise have become much more complex, differentiated and refined. Hence, any issues or complaints need to be handled with fairness, objectivity and an appropriate use of relevant expert witnesses.

The SMC is not taking a retrogressive step by reviewing the decision for Dr Lim.

In fact, this review should pave the way for an improved disciplinary tribunal system that gives all doctors confidence in the fairness and objectivity of the SMC.

Ho Ting Fei (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2019, with the headline 'SMC's appeal for leniency a positive step'. Print Edition | Subscribe