Forum: Why docs unlikely to appeal against disciplinary tribunal's decisions

Posed photo of a doctor.
Posed photo of a doctor.PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: ST FILE

The Court of Three Judges noted how doctors now have the "propensity" to rely on loud protestations against the decisions of disciplinary tribunals to get outcomes they think are fair (Court clears doctor fined $50,000 by SMC tribunal, Oct 19).

Mostly, doctors agree with the decisions made by the Singapore Medical Council (SMC); after all, it is a body mainly made up of professionals of our choice.

We appeal to the SMC through the court of public opinion only when there seems to be a gross miscarriage of justice because, seemingly, the higher authorities are stirred from inertia only by adverse publicity.

Given that the SMC's disciplinary tribunal metes out punishment to about 15 to 20 errant doctors annually, and only the occasional one or two cases in the last few years appeared so obviously inequitable that doctors bestirred themselves to right a wrong, perhaps the word "propensity" veers towards tongue-in-cheek hyperbole.

The trio of judges also deemed doctors who felt disproportionately punished a little remiss in not appealing against their sentences.

This has everything to do with the major problems afflicting the SMC's disciplinary process, as noted by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong (Undue delays, unfair sentences in medical council's cases: Gan, April 2).

After waiting out years of uncertainty where the doctor does not know the outcome of his professional status, he wearily handles any decision by the disciplinary tribunal acceptingly.

Contesting and appealing through the courts simply mean more expenses and added years of self-inflicted agony. Previous justices had also been known to hand out even harsher sentences on appeal.

The SMC disciplinary tribunal has a basic understanding of legal processes, but it is still a law dilettante. If it must err at all, err on the side of caution and leniency. This obviates the need for doctors to appeal.

Certainly, be scrupulously fair to complainants seeking redress, but be empathetic before throwing the book at fallible doctors.

Maximum sentences are hardly handed down by the courts except for the vilest of crimes. Meanwhile, the SMC has shown a propensity for meting out the most severe fines for somewhat lesser offences of simple negligence.

Yik Keng Yeong (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2019, with the headline 'Why docs unlikely to appeal against disciplinary tribunal's decisions'. Print Edition | Subscribe