SMC is 'not out to get doctors'

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Medical Council (SMC) has reassured doctors that it is not out to get them, and that not all complaints filed against doctors by the Ministry of Health (MOH) make it to a disciplinary hearing.

In an open letter to the 10,000 doctors here, SMC registrar K. Satku said more than 85 per cent of complaints against doctors do not make it to a disciplinary hearing. Underlining the independence of its complaints committees which decide if complaints have merit, he said the same applies to complaints against doctors from the MOH.

Releasing these figures for the first time, Professor Satku, who is also the director of medical services at the MOH, said complaints from the ministry account for only 15 per cent of all complaints received by the SMC, and "the majority" do not progress to a disciplinary committee.

He decided to write the five-page letter, sent out on Thursday, to "put the various issues in perspective" following recent criticisms of its disciplinary processes, which he said "must be of significant concern to all medical practitioners".

He reassured doctors that both the complaints committees and the disciplinary committees "are conducted independently of the council". He also made it explicitly clear that "the council has not actively sought conviction of any doctor who was referred by the complaints committees to the disciplinary committees".

Over the past five years, the SMC had conducted only 83 disciplinary hearings, with doctors in three cases acquitted.

Of the 80 convictions, 11 doctors appealed to the Court of Three Judges. One doctor withdrew his appeal, two cases are still pending, five were upheld and the remaining three were set aside by the apex court.

He revealed that for several years, the SMC had "recognised that changes were needed".

In 2010, the Medical Registration Act (MRA) was amended to give the complaints committees greater powers, such as mediating between doctor and patient. It also became possible to have a legally trained person chair disciplinary hearings.

But he said that doctors will continue to form the majority in the disciplinary tribunal. Any legal person chairing a hearing will not have a casting vote. In the event of a tie, the views of the majority of doctors will prevail.

Referring to an article in the November issue of the Singapore Medical Association News - where Dr T. Thirumoorthy argued that justice has to be seen to be done - Prof Satku said the move to include non-council members and lawyers in tribunals is "a step in this direction".

He said the SMC has set up a review committee both to "optimise processes under the current MRA and to make suggestions for future changes to the MRA".

salma@sph.com.sg


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