Lessons for professional regulatory bodies

Lessons for professional regulatory bodies

TUESDAY’S report (“Why SMC was ordered to pay doctor’s legal costs”) raises various questions and thoughts.

First, I applaud the judges for a fair, just and honest ruling. It proves once more that our Singapore judicial system is beyond ranks and positions in its execution of justice.

The Singapore Medical Council (SMC) has much to learn, and needs to examine its deficiencies.

Despite having the full support and advice of qualified medical professionals, how did the disciplinary committee end up producing a charge that lacked clarity and making “a number of errors” in finding the doctor guilty, including taking into account “facts that it should not have considered”?

Hence, one worries whether the SMC has exercised and will continue to exercise full caution and fairness in handling every complaint and disciplinary action, in line with its professional role and responsibility.

The legal costs paid by the SMC will have a bearing on the annual fees paid by its members and consequently raise the costs of medical practice.

The SMC should seriously commit to heart the judges’ comment that paying costs will “incentivise appropriate conduct in litigation”. This is a good and timely reminder for the SMC.

A wrong charge, if not reversed, results not only in the unnecessary loss of income beyond a doctor’s suspension, but also the loss of professional credibility.

The health minister’s actions in ordering the hearing are also questionable.

Was there due diligence to examine all evidence and understand the case before ordering the disciplinary hearing, especially since the SMC’s complaints committee had already found that the doctor had not been at fault?

Was adequate and appropriate advice from people with medical backgrounds given to the minister? Should the minister not bear some responsibility for the consequences?

I hope this case will be like a beacon shining light into dark corners and traps that can compromise our public regulatory systems. Ho Ting Fei (Dr)

This article was first published on March 12, 2015.
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