Complaints against doctors at all-time high

Professional negligence or incompetence top grouse among the 213 complaints last year

Cases in which doctors are found guilty of professional misconduct or negligence include when they gave the wrong medication or dose. PHOTO: ST FILE

Complaints against doctors reached an all-time high figure of 213 last year. This was 24 per cent more than the 172 complaints received by the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) in 2013.

The top grouse, which made up more than one in four of the complaints, was about professional negligence or incompetence. There were 55 such complaints last year- more than double the 23 in 2013.

Overall, more than two in three of these complaints were dismissed by the council's complaints committee. Last year, for example, of the 28 such complaints seen, 21 were dismissed, three resulted in letters of advice to the doctor, and four were sent to a disciplinary tribunal.

Cases in which doctors are found guilty of professional misconduct or negligence include when they gave the wrong medication or dose.

They also include not properly informing patients of the risks and possible complications of certain procedures, not informing patients of alternative treatments or not waiting until anaesthesia took effect before starting a procedure, and so causing the patient pain.

An SMC spokesman said the 17.2 complaints per 1,000 doctors last year was the highest it had

ever received. The previous high was 16.2 complaints per 1,000 doctors, in 2008. Last year was also bad in terms of the number of doctors complained against: 259, against 232 the previous year.

According to the SMC's annual report for last year, there were 12,263 doctors last year, so that is roughly one complaint for every 50 doctors.

The report said complaints mainly concerned "allegations that the professional services provided by medical practitioners (were) not... of the quality that had been expected."

The spokesman said: "Anecdotally, one contributing factor for the higher number of complaints could be a better educated and informed public."

He added: "In terms of the severity of complaint, if one were to use the percentage of complaints received that are referred for a disciplinary inquiry, we note that on average, 5 per cent of complaints received in a year are referred for a disciplinary inquiry, and this has remained fairly stable over the past five years."

Other notable complaints included 24 for over-, unnecessary or inappropriate treatment; and 13 for misdiagnosis. There were also 40 complaints of rudeness and attitude and communication issues.

The SMC looked at 378 complaints last year, including some from past years. Of these, 18 were deemed serious enough for disciplinary inquiries.

Of the rest, six doctors were given letters of warning, 40 were issued letters of advice, three were sent for mediation and 100 complaints were dismissed.

It held 23 disciplinary inquiries last year. Two doctors were acquitted. Two complaints against three doctors were withdrawn, and two cases are pending appeals to the High Court. Of the other cases, the doctors involved were penalised with either censures, fines, suspension or a combination.

One doctor was taken off the Register of Medical Practices on the advice of the High Court because her "fitness to practise had been impaired by reason of her mental condition".

The SMC has held eight hearings so far this year, in which it found 10 doctors guilty of various offences.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 14, 2015, with the headline Complaints against doctors at all-time high. Subscribe