A surgeon, who disobeyed court orders to pay the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) about $500,000 in legal costs, was yesterday jailed for a week for contempt of court.
Pang Ah San, 58, a general surgeon in private practice, was allowed to start serving the sentence next Monday to give him time to make arrangements for his patients and the care of his mother, who has dementia.
The legal fees arose from two sets of disciplinary proceedings, in which Pang was found guilty of breaching ethical guidelines which state that doctors are not to offer remedies that are not generally accepted by the profession, except in approved clinical trials.
Between 2007 and 2009, he performed a procedure known as percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy, in which a tube is inserted into the stomach of patients who cannot swallow, on at least four elderly patients. He used an experimental tube he had invented and for which he had taken out a patent.
In 2012, he was fined $10,000 for using the tube on an 84-year-old patient. In a second probe in 2014, he was suspended for six months and fined $10,000 for using the same device on three other patients.
For both sets of proceedings, he was ordered to pay the SMC's costs, totalling about $490,000. With interest, the sum is now over $538,000.
The SMC, represented by lawyer Chang Man Phing, took various steps to enforce the cost orders, including initiating bankruptcy proceedings. This application was dismissed after Pang showed he had $1 million in the bank. The money was later withdrawn.
On Sept 13, the SMC launched contempt proceedings against Pang for disobeying court orders.
Yesterday, Pang told the court that he was "constrained as an impecunious debtor". When Ms Chang pointed out that he had $1 million in the bank, Pang clarified: "My constraint is not in terms of money." He did not elaborate further.
After sentencing Pang, Justice Choo Han Teck told the surgeon that he faces a longer jail term if he is hauled back to court for disobeying the court orders.
In a press statement, the SMC said it views Pang's breaches of the court orders very seriously.
"It is important that SMC... sends a signal to the medical profession that errant medical practitioners cannot disregard the authority of the disciplinary committee / disciplinary tribunal and the court."