SINGAPORE - General practitioner Wee Teong Boo, 71, who was in 2020 acquitted of raping a patient, had prescribed cough mixture containing codeine to “treat” patients who were addicted to the substance.
This emerged in a hearing before the Court of Three Judges on Thursday, during which the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) urged the court to increase Dr Wee’s suspension from 20 months to between 30 and 36 months.
A disciplinary tribunal had imposed the 20-month suspension earlier in 2022, after Dr Wee pleaded guilty to 20 charges of professional misconduct: 10 for overprescribing cough mixture and benzodiazepines, and 10 for failing to keep adequate patient medical records.
The SMC’s lawyer, Mr Edmund Kronenburg, disagreed with the tribunal’s conclusion that Dr Wee’s misconduct was not motivated by financial gain.
During the hearing, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said it was “fundamentally troubling” that in some of the cases, Dr Wee had prescribed cough mixture to patients who were addicted to codeine because he saw himself as an alternative to street traffickers in Geylang.
The Chief Justice noted that when Dr Wee was first confronted with the allegations, his explanation was that he was treating his patients’ addictions using his own “methodology”, so they would not have to go to cough mixture peddlers.
The Chief Justice said there was a world of difference between prescribing addictive medication to feed an addiction and simply overprescribing by giving more medication than what is stated in the guidelines.
Together with Justices Judith Prakash and Steven Chong, the Chief Justice suggested that the cases be categorised so that they could understand the different nuances among them.
There were instances of Dr Wee mixing different psychoactive drugs, of cough mixture being prescribed to feed the patient’s dependency, and of cough mixture being inappropriately prescribed for the underlying condition.
The judges asked Mr Kronenburg and Dr Wee’s lawyer, Mr Chooi Jing Yen, to provide details of each of the 10 cases, and set out their respective positions on the level of culpability and harm caused, and therefore, the sentence.
The case was adjourned to a later date.
Dr Wee was charged in 2017 with molesting a patient, then a 23-year-old student, during a medical examination in November 2015, and of raping her during another visit one month later.
He was convicted of sexual assault instead of rape by the High Court, based on the doctor’s admission that he had inserted his ungloved fingers into the patient.
But the Court of Appeal eventually cleared him of all charges.