Surgeon Susan Lim loses UK case over notice of suspension

Surgeon Susan Lim.

Surgeon had duty to tell Britain's General Medical Council of SMC finding, not wait for appeal ruling

Currently suspended from practising in Singapore, surgeon Susan Lim has also lost a legal challenge in a London court over when she should have informed Britain's General Medical Council (GMC) about the Singapore outcome.

The GMC registers and serves as a regulatory body for all doctors qualified to work in Britain.

Dr Lim has been registered with the GMC for about 30 years and graduated with a scholarship- funded doctorate from Cambridge University. It is understood, however, that she has never practised in Britain.

In 2012, Singapore-based Dr Lim was suspended from practice for three years and fined $10,000 by the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) for the excessive billing of a patient that amounted to professional misconduct.

Her suspension took effect the following year after she had failed in her appeal to a court. It is due to end in July this year.

Justice Haddon-Cave said the "GMC would have no knowledge of, let alone control over, how long particular foreign professional bodiesmight take to bring disciplinary proceedings, which might vary widely".

In July 2013, the SMC notified the GMC of its findings and sanction against Dr Lim. In turn, the GMC pointed out to Dr Lim that she had failed to inform them of the SMC's adverse finding - something that she should have done, according to the GMC's Good Practice Guide.

The GMC referred Dr Lim's case to the Fitness to Practise Panel (FPP), which can take action against doctors. The SMC's professional misconduct ruling against Dr Lim and her failure to inform the GMC were among the issues at hand.

Dr Lim, an expert in robotic- assisted surgery and stem cell research, sought a judicial review in London to clarify the GMC panel's interpretation of the rules.

At the hearing in the London High Court last November, her lawyers argued that she was under a duty to inform the GMC only after her appeal had been dismissed in the Singapore High Court in June 2013. This meant, they said, that the SMC order was suspended till then.

But the FPP countered that she was obliged to report the matter in July 2012, when the SMC disciplinary tribunal had found her guilty.

British High Court Justice Charles Haddon-Cave, in judgment grounds issued on Thursday, ruled that Dr Lim was obliged to report the SMC finding in July 2012, even though the order to suspend and fine her was put on hold until the appeal outcome in 2013.

"It is plainly in the public interest that the GMC has early notice of matters which potentially impact on a medical practitioner's fitness to practise and, therefore, has the opportunity to take appropriate interim action," he added.

Queen's Counsel M. Fordham further argued for Dr Lim that more than five years had lapsed since the misconduct last occurred in 2007 and the rationale of the five-year rule was to avoid hearings related to stale events, among other things.

But GMC counsel D. Pievsky pointed out that the five-year period began to run from the date of the Singapore tribunal's finding in 2012 and not from the misconduct date.

Justice Haddon-Cave found the GMC's stand made "good sense".

He said the "GMC would have no knowledge of, let alone control over, how long particular foreign professional bodies might take to bring disciplinary proceedings, which might vary widely".

"Mr Fordham QC's construction requires a rewriting of both the Singapore legislation and the GMC rules and guidance," he added.

The judge further held that a challenge to the five-year rule should have been made within three months of the GMC's notice in August last year to Dr Lim on the issue.

"(Dr Lim)'s challenge was, therefore, well over a year out of time," said Justice Haddon-Cave.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2016, with the headline 'Susan Lim loses UK case over notice of suspension'. Print Edition | Subscribe