Medical council tightening its disciplinary processes

PHOTO: Medical council tightening its disciplinary processes

SINGAPORE - Nearly two years after the High Court lambasted the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) for how it handled a disciplinary hearing, a committee set up to review these processes has released its final report.

Most of the committee's recommendations were aimed at speeding up inquiries and improving legal processes - two areas which had previously been the focus of much criticism. It also suggested changes to boost transparency, especially in the appeals process.

In 2012, the SMC formed its review committee after being castigated by the High Court over the way it handled disciplinary hearings.

The court had overturned a verdict by the SMC's disciplinary tribunal against aesthetic doctor Low Chai Ling, whom the SMC had found guilty of providing treatments with no scientifically proven effectiveness.

Then, the court said it was wrong to punish doctors retrospectively for treatments that were not against guidelines at the time.

In November last year, the committee issued its report to the SMC privately.

Yesterday, the SMC released its responses along with the committee's 140-page report, which made 14 broad recommendations. Of these, eight were accepted.

The SMC has already started to implement changes in some of these areas, such as making preinquiry conferences mandatory.

This means that any preliminary objections can be dealt with early, allowing the rest of the hearing to proceed on schedule.

It is also starting to publish an online database of precedents going back to 2008 - including acquittals - in the interest of transparency.

Another three recommendations require legislative changes to implement and the SMC is working on these with the Ministry of Health (MOH).

Lastly, the SMC said it would further study three recommendations with the intention of possibly implementing them in future.

One of these recommendations is not allowing council members on the complaints committee - which decides if complaints have merit - to prevent "the perception of conflict of interest".

The SMC said it understands the concerns articulated by the review committee, but added that "this must be balanced with the reality that council members, having chaired such proceedings for many years, have particular expertise in handling such matters".

It suggested a "phased approach" to implementation, which would allow it to build expertise within the medical community, so that it can put in place the review committee's recommendation in a few years' time.

Yesterday, the SMC also released the list of review committee members for the first time. It consists of a mix of doctors from the public and private sectors, lawyers, and representatives from MOH. None is from the council.

It is chaired by Professor Raj Nambiar of Tan Tock Seng Hospital, who said: "I am confident that the recommendations... will serve to further strengthen the SMC's disciplinary processes in the interests of the public."

SMC president Tan Ser Kiat added that the council would periodically review the complaints and disciplinary processes "to ensure continued relevance for many years to come".

MOH, experts cheer suggestions

THE Singapore Medical Council's (SMC) move to improve the way disciplinary inquiries are held has met with approval by the Ministry of Health (MOH) and experts in the field.

In a statement yesterday, the MOH said it "welcomes and agrees" with the recommendations made.

It added that it would work with the SMC on changes that require legislative amendments.

Dr Chia Shi-Lu, head of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, said they are "in line with what many doctors and members of the public have proposed in the preceding years".

These include proposals to speed up inquiries, strengthen legal processes, and increase transparency.

Mr Charles Lin, of legal firm MyintSoe and Selvaraj, who has 25 years' experience in medical defence work, said: "It's a step in the right direction."

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to  for more stories.