SINGAPORE - The Singapore Medical Council (SMC) has promised to reduce delays in prosecuting errant doctors, following criticism by the Court of Three Judges in a recent case involving a gynaecologist.
The court had remarked on the "inordinate delay" in prosecuting Dr Jen Shek Wei for professional misconduct.
The SMC ascribed the delay to a "confluence of various factors", including the time taken to probe the complaint and to prepare and prosecute the case.
"The SMC values the court's opinion and will continue to refine its processes to reduce delays," it said in response to queries from The Straits Times. It said it had already taken some steps in this direction, earlier this year.
Last week, the court dismissed Dr Jen's appeal against an SMC disciplinary tribunal which found him guilty of removing a patient's left ovary without her informed consent and for advising her to remove a mass from her ovary without adequate evaluation or investigation of her condition in August 2010.
The disciplinary tribunal suspended Dr Jen for eight months and fined him $10,000 last year. On appeal, however, the court held that Dr Jen's suspension should have been doubled instead, as the penalty was "on the low side".
But the sentence was discounted in order to reflect the "inordinate delay" of the three years it took for the SMC to issue the notice of inquiry in July 2015, and the total of about six years for the case to reach this appeal hearing from the date of the complaint in 2011.
The SMC told The Straits Timesthat a complaint against a doctor is first probed by a complaints committee (CC) comprising two senior doctors and a layman, who take up the case on a voluntary basis.
The investigations in Dr Jen's case, including interviewing witnesses and seeking expert views, took 15 months.
Once the case was referred to thedisciplinary tribunal, solicitors were engaged, medical records reviewed, and the process took another 20 months.
The SMC said that some parts of this process could have been shortened and that it would try to ensure greater efficiency in future cases.
It added that the disciplinary tribunal took around 18 months to hear the case over several tranches and come to a considered and reasoned decision.
"The SMC wishes to assure the public that it appreciates the need to expedite fair and just disposal of medical disciplinary cases while exercising due care and even-handedness, at every stage of the medical disciplinary process.
"Some of the steps taken since early 2017 include improving the complaints process to help CCs address complaints more easily and providing stronger secretarial support to the CCs to expedite the investigation process."
But it said the effects of these new measures would take some time to kick in.
Dr Jen, 62, who has been in practice for 28 years, had faced two charges following a woman's complaint in 2011 that he had advised her to undergo surgery to remove a pelvic mass without carrying out further evaluation and investigation of her condition when further assessment was indicated.
Furthermore, in the operation to remove the mass on the ovary, he had instead removed her left ovary. This he did without her informed consent, which breached SMC's Ethical Code and Ethical Guidelines. The patient, a 34-year-old finance manager, found out only later when she saw another doctor.
Asked by The Straits Times about the six years taken to conclude the case, Dr Jen said: "Of course it has affected me, it's like a guillotine always hanging over my head. A lot of personal stress."
The employees at his clinic are looking for new jobs as he will be suspended for eight months.