Surgeon fights conviction over failure to give adequate medical leave

A hand surgeon who gave a welder one day of medical leave and certified him fit for seven days of light duties after surgery is fighting against his conviction for professional misconduct.

Dr Looi Kok Poh was handed a six-month suspension by a disciplinary tribunal which found that he had failed to give adequate medical leave to the 32-year-old Indian national who worked at a shipyard.

Yesterday, Dr Looi argued that the medical certification was justified, given the particular procedure he performed, that the patient was in good condition and his familiarity with light duty arrangements at the patient's workplace.

But the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) is appealing for a two-year suspension, arguing that the prevalence of injured workers not being given adequate medical leave justified deterrence.

SMC's lawyer Josephine Choo said a document showed that the worker was recorded to be working when he was supposed to be on light duties.

Dr Looi's lawyer, Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan, said the document was only meant to record manpower cost allocation and the patient was in fact doing light duties at the health, safety and environment department.

The Court of Three Judges will give its decision at a later date.


On Aug 7, 2011, the tip of the worker's right middle finger was crushed in an accident. On the same day, at West Point Hospital, Dr Looi carried out the first stage of a two-stage procedure.

In such an operation, a skin flap is created on the palm of the hand, and the injured finger is stitched to the flap so that the blood vessels can sustain the tissue on the finger. When the finger has healed, the second stage is carried out to divide the skin conjoining the injured finger to the flap.

The patient was discharged the next day. Dr Looi certified him fit for light duties for seven days.

Dr Looi reviewed the patient on Aug 12 and ordered light duties till the next review on Aug 22.

On Aug 20, the patient went to Singapore General Hospital (SGH) because of pain and was given three days of medical leave.

On Aug 22, Dr Looi issued one week of medical leave and scheduled the second-stage procedure. The patient skipped this and underwent the surgery at SGH.

The Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics lodged a complaint against Dr Looi, alleging that he was in collusion with the patient's employer.

This is because the Ministry of Manpower does not require employers to report work accidents if the medical leave issued is for fewer than three days. The allegation was withdrawn after it emerged that the employer did report the incident.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 05, 2019, with the headline 'Surgeon fights conviction over failure to give adequate medical leave'. Print Edition | Subscribe