Panel to develop guidelines on sentencing of errant doctors

The new Sentencing Guidelines Committee will develop a framework to guide disciplinary tribunals in meting out appropriate sanctions, "taking into account sentencing principles".
The new Sentencing Guidelines Committee will develop a framework to guide disciplinary tribunals in meting out appropriate sanctions, "taking into account sentencing principles".PHOTO: ST FILE

New 16-member committee appointed by SMC to help ensure penalties are fair and consistent

The Singapore Medical Council (SMC) has appointed a 16-member committee that will help ensure errant doctors get disciplinary sentences which are consistent and fair.

It said in a statement yesterday that the new Sentencing Guidelines Committee will develop a framework to guide disciplinary tribunals in meting out appropriate sanctions, "taking into account sentencing principles".

"The sentencing guidelines will help the disciplinary tribunals in ensuring consistency and fairness in the sentences meted out, and improve transparency and rigour in the disciplinary process," it said.

The SMC also said that in developing the guidelines, committee members will consider local jurisprudence on professional conduct and discipline, as well as the practices and approaches adopted by other jurisdictions. They will also set out the mitigating and aggravating factors - like a doctor's seniority - which a disciplinary tribunal can take into account when deciding on the appropriate sanction.

Currently, disciplinary tribunals look at penalties imposed in the past to decide whether a doctor should be fined, suspended or struck off the register. But in September 2017, a disciplinary tribunal called for clear sentencing guidelines to be drawn up to ensure penalties meted out are consistent.

Its chairman, Professor Walter Tan, said having clear guidelines would also let doctors know, from the penalties, how severely certain actions are viewed.

The matter was also raised in a commentary by Straits Times senior health correspondent Salma Khalik, in which she said such guidelines are "long overdue". She cited two separate cases in which doctors were found guilty of harming the patient and falsifying records. One doctor was fined $10,000; another was fined the same amount and suspended for nine months.

 
 
 
 
 

"Doctors are not judges, and although they rightly sit in judgment over their peers who have erred, adjudicating over such matters is not their area of expertise," she wrote.

The new committee is headed by Judge of Appeal Judith Prakash.

It includes members of the medical and legal fraternities, as well as representatives from the Health and Law ministries. All members were appointed by the SMC in consultation with both ministries.

"The members possess the necessary breadth and depth of subject matter knowledge and expertise, as well as legal expertise, to facilitate a thorough and considered review of the disciplinary process to propose a set of sentencing guidelines," the SMC said.

Ms Joan Pereira, a member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, said giving disciplinary tribunals clear guidelines to work with "will remove uncertainty and reduce elements of subjective judgment" and result in a more transparent enforcement framework.

"Eventually, this should also help to improve the standards of healthcare delivery and better deter disciplinary infringements," she said.

The committee aims to develop the guidelines by the end of the year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2019, with the headline 'Panel to develop guidelines on sentencing of errant doctors'. Print Edition | Subscribe