Surgeon suspended for misconduct

Raffles Hospital.

Apex court overturns acquittal after appeal by SMC over handling of injured worker

An orthopaedic surgeon at Raffles Hospital has been convicted of professional misconduct and suspended for six months, after the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) appealed against his acquittal over his management of an injured construction worker.

Dr Wong Him Choon, 51, gave his patient just two days of medical leave after he broke his right hand in a construction site accident - and certified him fit for light duties a day after his operation.

A disciplinary tribunal, which heard the case between June and September last year, acquitted Dr Wong of professional misconduct. Both parties in the case agreed then that the primary factors a doctor should consider before deciding on the type or duration of medical leave include the severity of the illness or injury, the amount of recovery time needed post-treatment, and nature of the patient's work.

Nevertheless, the tribunal acquitted Dr Wong as there was no conclusive evidence to show he had failed to comply with the applicable standards of conduct in managing the patient. SMC then filed an appeal against the decision to the Court of Three Judges.

The court decided that Dr Wong had considered "irrelevant factors" in issuing the medical certificate and disregarded the patient's well- being. It overturned the tribunal's acquittal on Tuesday and ordered Dr Wong to be censured and suspended from practice for six months.

He must also bear the SMC's costs for the tribunal's inquiry and the appeal, and give the council an undertaking to abstain from the same or similar conduct in future.

The accident happened on Sept 3, 2011. Dr Wong performed surgery early the next day and the patient was discharged afterwards.

The tribunal proceedings arose from a complaint from the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home), a group which helps migrant workers.

Its executive director Jolovan Wham said: "The complaint was made because of grave concerns that doctors might be in collusion with companies to discourage workers from taking medical leave, and filing work injury compensation claims, even though the workers were seriously injured." It sees at least 15 workers a year who are not given sufficient medical leave.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2016, with the headline 'Surgeon suspended for misconduct'. Print Edition | Subscribe