Dr Susan Lim's lawyer scores 'own goal'

SINGAPORE - Balls were bounced about in the warm, stuffy court room that was 3B yesterday.

Over 20 members of the public had packed the public gallery since 2pm. Extra benches had to be brought in.

The crowd grew restless waiting as the hearing did not start till 5pm. But most stayed to the end to hear the case which has gripped their imagination.

They were not disappointed. Instead of a long, arduous session, they were hit left and right by sporting analogies.

Was it a "technical knockout" or a "slam dunk", the justice asked? No, no. It's more like an own goal, the senior counsel argued.

Wah, NBA (National Basketball Association) and EPL (English Premier League)? The crowd tittered.

They had come to watch the case of Dr Susan Lim, a private surgeon, who is fighting the Singapore Medical Council's (SMC) decision to appoint a second disciplinary committee to investigate an accusation by the Health Ministry here that she overcharged her Brunei patient, Pengiran Anak Hajah Damit.

Her bill for services over a five-month period from Jan 15 to June 16, 2007 came to $26 million (with GST).

Royal patient

Dr Lim's patient, the younger sister of the Queen of Brunei and cousin of the Sultan, had breast cancer. She died in August 2007. The Bruneians paid all Dr Lim's bills up to March 2007.

After the patient died, Dr Lim was queried on the rest of the 2007 bill.

Yesterday, due to some discussion in chambers, the court hearing did not start until past 5pm.

Among those in the public gallery was Mr Deepak Sharma, Dr Lim's banker husband, and a journalist from The Brunei Times, who had flown here to cover the case.

She said that the case had become a talking point back home.

During the hearing, Dr Lim's lawyer, Senior Counsel Lee Eng Beng , tried to admit the affidavits from five doctors in court yesterday to support her case.

The doctors were witnesses for the SMC's first disciplinary committee.

In the affidavits, they spoke glowingly of how much Dr Susan Lim's royal patient trusted her and how she would not proceed with any treatment without Dr Lim's clearance.

They also said that they did not feel cheated or deceived by Dr Lim's invoices, which were presented as marked-up versions of their original bills, some of them marked up by hundreds of times.

The doctors also said that their bills were for their work and Dr Lim's bills were for her work.

One doctor's affidavit referred to Dr Lim as the patient's "main port of call".

Another affidavit, by Dr Chan Tiong Beng, a respiratory physician, referred to himself as "like a sub-contractor" and Dr Lim as the "main contractor".

Mr Lee said the affidavits support "their case of irrationality", that it was irrational for the SMC to pursue the matter any further with a second disciplinary committee.

Justice Philip Pillai then asked whether these affidavits were a "technical knockout" or a "slam dunk" for Dr Lim's case.

Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo, for the SMC, then used another sporting analogy and said it was like "an own goal".

The doctors were not the ones being asked to pay the mark-up, so why should they feel cheated, he asked.

He proceeded to go through each affidavit to show that not only did Dr Lim mark up these doctors' bills, she had also sent bills of her own to the Brunei High Commission, over the same period of treatment.

He said it was misleading to paint a picture that it's not really a mark-up because she was billing for her own work.

"She slaps on an extra charge and presents it as if it was for the third party doctor's work... while at the same time, she would bill the patient an additional or separate amount for her own work," said Mr Yeo.

He said the most "egregious" example was with relation to Dr Chan, who had charged $9,553.70 for his services over nine days in May 2006.

Unreasonable?

Dr Lim then sent a bill of $401,900 to the Brunei High Commission, presented as Dr Chan's bill, and a separate bill for her own services, over the same period of time for $1.966 million. (See table below.)

Mr Yeo said the question before the court is whether it is so unreasonable for this case to be referred to a disciplinary committee for inquiry.

He said: "It is my respectful submission that the evidence is so clear that there is a case to answer, and there is no way that one can say it's unreasonable to refer the matter to a disciplinary committee."

He said that if Dr Lim is innocent, she would be acquitted by the disciplinary committee and come out of this "smelling of roses".

"Instead, she comes to court to subvert the process. With respect, the five affidavits have been put forward, in a measure of desperation, in the midst of this hearing and it doesn't make her behaviour any more reasonable," said Mr Yeo, who added that he did not think the affidavits were worth very much.

Justice Pillai did not make a decision on whether the affidavits would be admitted.

The hearing continues today.

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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