Surgeon hires spin doctors to handle media

Surgeon hires spin doctors to handle media

First, she hired a former newspaper editor as her public relations consultant.

Now, private surgeon Susan Lim also has one of Singapore's top PR agencies representing her in her ongoing legal tussle with the Singapore Medical Council (SMC).

On Thursday, a four-member team from international communications firm Hill & Knowlton turned up for the hearing in the Court of Appeal.

This included no less than the firm's managing director, Mr Baey Yam Keng.

Dr Lim, through her lawyers from Rajah & Tann, had appealed against a High Court decision dismissing her application to block a probe by the SMC into allegations against her.

The PR team, consisting of Mr Baey, a senior director and two other staff members, sat in the public gallery, which was packed with lawyers, law students and curious members of the public.

When asked on Thursday, the Hill & Knowlton team would only say that it had been engaged recently to handle public relations for Dr Lim.

It organised a session for the media to seek clarifications about the case after the hearing and facilitated media queries.

Fees

Fees

Industry sources say that fees for such services provided by top-tier PR firms would average US$200 to $250 (S$260 to $300) an hour. An ongoing project would cost the client anything from US$5,000 to tens of thousands of dollars.

Before Hill & Knowlton came on board, Mr P. N. Balji acted as Dr Lim's sole public relations consultant.

He sat next to Dr Lim's husband, Citi Private Bank chairman Deepak Sharma, in court on Thursday. As the lawyers presented their arguments, Mr Balji could be seen scribbling in his notebook.

When contacted over the phone on Thursday evening, he said he is still acting as Dr Lim's adviser but "in a more strategic way" on media relations and other matters.

He said Dr Lim had asked for his help just before the High Court hearing in February. He said he was paid for his services, but declined to disclose the amount.

He added that he was in court on Thursday in a personal capacity as he has known Dr Lim for more than 20 years.

"I'm a very, very good friend of Susan and the family ...I was also there to give moral support to them," he said.

When approached, Mr Sharma said Dr Lim was not at the hearing as she had to perform an operation in the morning.

YouTube video

Asked about a 13-minute YouTube video about Dr Lim's "fight for justice", Mr Sharma said he did not know who the creators of the animated clip were.

The video, Royal Engagement, put up by "truestories8" from the US, has attracted close to 8,000 viewers since it was uploaded about 11/2 months ago.

On the website, it is dubbed as being "based on a true life story of a doctor and a royal patient". Mr Sharma said he thought the video gave a clear presentation of the facts and the events that took place.

"Biased"

Medical council biased, argues Susan Lim's lawyer

It was illegal, improper and biased.

This was what Dr Susan Lim's lawyer, senior counsel Lee Eng Beng, said of the disciplinary proceedings by the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) against her.

During the three-hour long hearing on Thursday, Mr Lee argued among other things that the SMC's move to bring 94 charges of professional misconduct for allegedly overcharging a patient went beyond the SMC's jurisdiction.

Dr Lim has been embroiled in a high-profile case over her $12 million bill for treating her cancer patient - the sister of the Brunei queen - over seven months in 2007.

Dr Lim faced an SMC disciplinary committee (DC) last year, after the Ministry of Health accused her of overcharging a patient. But the committee stood down after Dr Lim's lawyers claimed it had pre-judged the case.

The SMC, which regulates the medical profession, then convened a second DC to hear the case.

So Dr Lim went to the High Court seeking judicial review. She wanted to quash the SMC's decision to refer the complaint to a second DC, arguing that it was improper andbiased.

She also sought to bar the SMC from taking steps to refer the same complaint to any committee in future, on grounds that such a move would be irrational. The High Court hearing took place in February and March.

In May, Justice Philip Pillai dismissed her application, saying she had failed to show that the SMC's decision was illegal or biased.

On Thursday, Mr Lee said there was evidence of a fee agreement freely entered into between Dr Lim and the patient which the SMC should not ignore.

He added that the SMC has no statutory power to set aside such a fee agreement and that charging fees in accordance with a fee agreement cannot constitute professional misconduct.

But senior counsel Alvin Yeo of Wong Partnership, representing the SMC, said there was no evidence that there was a fee agreement between the doctor and patient. He said the Bruneian government had denied that such an arrangement existed.

He asked the court to dismiss the appeal.

Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong and Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and V. K. Rajah reserved judgment on the case.

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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