SINGAPORE - The Court of Three Judges on Tuesday (April 23) dismissed the appeal of orthopaedic surgeon Kevin Yip Man Hing against a conviction of professional misconduct.
It also allowed an appeal by the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) and increased Dr Yip's suspension by three months to eight months.
Following a complaint lodged by migrant worker rights group Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home), an SMC disciplinary tribunal handed down the five-month suspension to Dr Yip last year.
The tribunal had found Dr Yip guilty of three charges of failing to ensure that his patient, a 47-year-old construction worker from China, received adequate medical leave on three occasions: after initially examining the patient, and at two follow-up reviews.
The court, comprising judges Andrew Phang, Judith Prakash and Quentin Loh, said in its judgment that the most aggravating factor in the case was that Dr Yip had displayed "complete disregard for the patient's welfare and interest".
It said that Dr Yip failed to consider the patient's multiple serious injuries as significant enough to warrant sick leave and also failed to check whether the patient had been coping with his light duties during the two follow-up reviews.
The case centred on an incident on July 7, 2011, when the patient, who was working as a bricklayer, fell from a scaffolding platform and suffered a fractured collarbone, several rib fractures, and head and wrist injuries.
He was examined by Dr Yip, a private doctor operating his own clinic at the Gleneagles Medical Centre, who operated on his collarbone later that evening.
The patient was then discharged the next morning. Dr Yip gave him sick leave for the two days he had spent in the hospital and certified him fit for light duties for the next three days, from July 9 to July 11.
During two follow-up reviews on July 11 and July 18, Dr Yip again certified the patient fit for light duties for a week at a time.
A third review was scheduled for July 25 but on July 22 the patient went to the emergency department of Tan Tock Seng Hospital complaining of persistent giddiness, nausea and chest pain. He was hospitalised for one day and given hospitalisation leave from July 22 to July 28.
The patient later approached Home for assistance with wage compensation issues and a complaint against Dr Yip was filed with the SMC on his behalf by Home's then executive director Jolovan Wham on Oct 24, 2011.
The complaint stated that Dr Yip should not have given only two days' sick leave to the patient, which covered only his hospitalisation for surgery and not his post-operative recovery.
In January this year, Dr Yip appealed against both his conviction and the five-month suspension meted out by the tribunal, arguing through his lawyer that it was appropriate to give the patient light duties.
The SMC also appealed for a longer suspension of 18 months in total; six months for each of the three charges, to run consecutively.
The Court of Three Judges held that a suspension period of four months for each charge was merited, totalling 12 months.
But it also noted that the disciplinary tribunal had originally handed down a 10-month suspension which was halved in view of an "inordinate delay" in issuing the notice of inquiry on the SMC's part.
Dr Yip was informed of the complaint on May 22, 2012. About a month later, on June 29, 2012, he submitted his explanation to the complaints committee of the SMC's investigation unit.
But it took the SMC three and half years to notify Dr Yip, on Nov 3, 2015, that a formal inquiry would be convened.
The court accepted that the delay resulted in Dr Yip suffering anxiety and distress.
However, it agreed with the SMC that there is a countervailing public interest to safeguard the health and safety of workers, especially vulnerable migrant workers who are dependent on their employers.
The case drew attention to the plight of foreign workers who are not given adequate sick leave for work injuries.
In February this year, workers' rights groups told The Straits Times that many construction and shipyard firms pressure doctors to give their workers no more than two days of sick leave to avoid having to report accidents.
The Ministry of Manpower is now reviewing the law, which currently only requires companies to report incidents to the ministry when workers are given more than three days of sick leave, or if they are hospitalised for at least 24 hours.
Dr Yip's suspension commences four weeks from Tuesday, the date of judgment.