The key reason for delays in disciplinary proceedings against doctors is the difficulty in finding suitable experts who are willing to testify against them, said the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) on Monday.
The professional watchdog was responding to queries from The Straits Times, sent after a Court of Three Judges noted on Oct 20, in its acquittal of heart doctor Leslie Lam of professional misconduct, that the patient's complaint took "an inordinately long time" to reach the court.
The court had urged the SMC to scrutinise its procedures to avoid such delays. "The SMC values the court's opinion and will continue to refine its processes to reduce delays," the council said.
Setting out the disciplinary process, the council said a complaint against a doctor is investigated by a three-member complaints committee, including two senior doctors.
The investigative steps, especially the procurement of expert opinions, take time, it said.
In Dr Lam's case, the committee took 15 months to obtain two expert opinions "because of difficulty in finding willing and suitable experts in his speciality".
The committee had approached 30 experts - 20 local and 10 foreign. "This difficulty in obtaining expert opinions has been, and continues to be, a major contributing factor to the delays in the SMC disciplinary process," said the council.
When the complaint against Dr Lam was heard by a disciplinary tribunal, the complexity of the issues required a further expert report and two pre-inquiry conferences. This lengthened the process, said the SMC.
The council said steps have been taken to expedite the investigation process. In certain cases, the committees have asked for expert opinions that are anonymous, to reduce rejection on grounds of conflict of interests.
The council is also working with professional bodies to encourage the medical profession to assist with expert opinions in the investigation process.