Medical council to review its disciplinary processes

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Medical Council is to set up a committee to review the way it tackles disciplinary cases in the wake of criticism from the High Court.

It has also applied to set aside its guilty verdict against aesthetic doctor Georgia Lee.

Both moves follow the recent lambasting it received from the High Court over its disciplinary hearing into another doctor, Dr Low Chai Ling.

The review committee is expected to be a high-powered one, chaired by a senior doctor and assisted by a senior lawyer.

The rest of its members will be senior medical and legal professionals.

Its task is to "develop more efficient and better ways to manage the disciplinary process and mitigate the increase in time and expense for disciplinary proceedings".

Yesterday, the council said its lawyers have applied to the High Court to set aside its verdict against Dr Lee.

The 43-year-old was found guilty of professional misconduct following a disciplinary hearing last year.

She was said to have breached ethical codes by practising unproven treatments, including carboxytherapy, which involves administering carbon dioxide to improve a patient's looks.

Dr Low, 37, was also found guilty of using non-evidence- based aesthetic medicine in a broadly similar case.

However, the court cleared her last month, and released a 54-page judgment criticising the way her disciplinary hearing was carried out.

It said it was wrong to penalise doctors retrospectively for treatments that were not against guidelines at the time, and used terms such as "legally embarrassing".

Government Parliamentary Committee for Health chairman Lam Pin Min then urged the council to relook its disciplinary processes, as well as some of its previous convictions "to ensure that it lives up to its professional and ethical accountability to the medical community and the public".

In a statement issued last night, the council said the High Court's decision to overturn its guilty verdict against Dr Low "provides valuable guidance in other disciplinary cases involving the conduct of doctors in the practice of aesthetic medicine".

In the judgment that cleared Dr Low, the court also said it was wrong to go after just a couple of doctors when many were doing the same thing.

But last night, the council pointed out that before the Medical Registration Act was strengthened in 2010, it was not allowed to initiate disciplinary action.

Instead, it had to wait for others to complain. In the cases of both doctors, which took place in 2007, the complaint was made by the Health Ministry.

The Act was amended to "strengthen and streamline" disciplinary processes, said the council. Since December 2010, it has been able to initiate action if it receives "credible information of professional misconduct or disreputable behaviour or ethical breaches in the medical profession".

Other changes to the Act allow a retired judge or senior lawyer to be a member of a disciplinary tribunal, or even the chairman. Other members would then need to be senior doctors.

The council said: "This is expected to significantly improve the quality and pace of the proceedings before the disciplinary tribunals, particularly in dealing with legal issues that may arise, while preserving the fundamental principle of self-regulation."

salma@sph.com.sg


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