Surgeon fights suspension for failing to give adequate medical leave

SINGAPORE - A hand surgeon who gave a foreign worker 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 patient, a 32-year-old Indian national who worked as a welder in a shipyard.

On Monday (March 4), Dr Looi argued that the medical certification was justified, given the particular procedure he performed, his assessment that the patient was in good condition, and his familiarity with the 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 a deterrent sentence.

The SMC's lawyer, Ms Josephine Choo, said a document from the employer showed that the worker was recorded to be working on board various vessels 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 Sembawang Health, Safety and Environment(HSE) department.

The Court of Three Judges reserved judgment after hearing the arguments and will give its decision at a later date.

On Aug 7, 2011, a steel plate fell on the worker's right hand and crushed the tip of his right middle finger.

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 sufficiently healed, the second stage is carried out to divide the skin conjoining the injured finger to the flap.

The patient was hospitalised overnight and 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 until the next review on Aug 22.

On Aug 20, the patient went to Singapore General Hospital because of pain and was given three days of medical leave until his appointment with Dr Looi.

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

The Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) 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 fewer than three days.

The activist group withdrew the allegation after it emerged that the employer did report the incident.

Following a disciplinary inquiry, Dr Looi was convicted of two charges - for failing to give adequate medical leave and for inappropriately certifying the patient as fit for light duties.