Doctor arrested for drug offences demoted by tribunal

In a photo taken on June 26, 2012, a doctor draws medicine into a syringe.
In a photo taken on June 26, 2012, a doctor draws medicine into a syringe.PHOTO: AFP

Sanction means he can practise only under supervision; he must also attend drug rehabilitation sessions for the 18 months of his demotion

A doctor who was arrested for multiple drug offences, including taking methamphetamine, has been demoted from a fully registered physician to one who can practise only under supervision.

Dr Damian Yeo Eng Hui, 32, a resident at the emergency medicine department of Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), was also ordered to attend drug rehabilitation sessions.

Dr Yeo was sanctioned by a disciplinary tribunal for bringing disrepute to the medical profession through his misconduct.

The tribunal's grounds of decision, published this week, show that the case could be the first time such a sanction under the Medical Registration Act was considered.

Dr Yeo was a senior resident physician at TTSH when he was arrested by the Central Narcotics Bureau on Aug 1, 2017.

He had consumed methamphetamine, commonly known as Ice, and was also in possession of 2.69g of Ice, three tablets of the sedative Nimetazepam and drug-taking utensils, namely, a lighter, cut straws and a syringe.

He was sent to the drug rehabilitation centre (DRC) on Aug 8, 2017 for his drug consumption offence, and given a stern warning for the other offences.

NOT DOING HARM

(As the respondent is) a doctor practising emergency medicine in a major hospital, the professional competence of the respondent in treating and not doing harm to patients would be placed in question upon his arrest for possessing and consuming illicit drugs.

DISCIPLINARY TRIBUNAL

Dr Yeo lost his job because of his "gross misconduct" but he was re-employed on Dec 19 that year, and his employment has since been renewed to run till Dec 28, 2021.

In disciplinary proceedings brought by the Singapore Medical Council (SMC), Dr Yeo pleaded guilty on May 8 this year to a charge of improper conduct that brings disrepute to the profession.

The SMC argued that he should be downgraded from a fully registered doctor to one with conditions and restrictions within a supervisory framework of two years.

Drug offences are "extremely serious", and Dr Yeo was arrested for not just one, but multiple offences, the SMC argued.

Dr Yeo's lawyer argued that a censure was sufficient, citing two precedents involving doctors who were convicted and jailed for drug offences.

The lawyer also said that Dr Yeo had committed the offences in a moment of folly owing to the pressures of work, and has made good progress in his rehabilitation regime.

Dr Yeo said under oath that he was off duty on the day of his arrest and the day before.

After considering the arguments, the tribunal ordered that Dr Yeo's status be downgraded for 18 months, during which he also has to attend regular sessions with an approved addictions specialist.

 

"(As the respondent is) a doctor practising emergency medicine in a major hospital, the professional competence of the respondent in treating and not doing harm to patients would be placed in question upon his arrest for possessing and consuming illicit drugs," said the tribunal.

A censure, being a formal statement of disapproval, was wholly inadequate to send the message that such misconduct will not be condoned, it added.

The tribunal said rehabilitation was appropriate, given that Dr Yeo is young, has a promising career ahead of him and appears to have the support of his colleagues and superiors.

This was in line with the present focus on rehabilitating drug offenders, said the tribunal, citing recent changes to the law to channel "pure abusers" to the DRC instead of sending them to jail.

As for the precedents cited by the lawyer, the tribunal said the doctors in those cases were convicted of drug possession, not consumption. It added that their sentences, in 2007 and 2014, may have been lenient.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2019, with the headline 'Doctor arrested for drug offences demoted by tribunal'. Print Edition | Subscribe