SINGAPORE - The Court of Appeal today reserved judgment on the case of a well-known surgeon accused of overcharging her royal Brunei patient.
Dr Susan Lim is appealing against the High Court's decision to dismiss her attempt to stop the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) from bringing her before a disciplinary committee (DC) for a second time.
She is accused of grossly overcharging the late sister of Brunei's queen, Pengiran Anak Hajah Damit. It is reported that the bill for seven months of treatment came up to $24.8 million.
Dr Lim had previously argued that the bill includes expenses such as arranging an evacuation flight. She also said the final figure was lower and that her charges are reasonable based on her past earnings.
The Straits Times reported that during today's hearing, Dr Lim's lawyer, Senior counsel Lee Eng Beng, said there are no fee guidelines for doctors and the ethical code does not state a maximum amount a doctor can charge.
Mr Lee also questioned whether it is a disciplinary offence for a medical practitioner to be too expensive, and said the case is just a commercial dispute and does not warrant disciplinary proceedings.
He further argued that the SMC does not have the power to discipline Dr Lim for the size of her bills.
Dr Lim was brought before a DC last year, but the DC stepped down voluntarily.
A second DC was re-convened after two emails were sent to the 17 council members asking for their permission to reopen the review.
A list of proposed names was also submitted to be approved by the following day. If not, it would be taken that they had no objections.
Mr Lee found issue with this method of seeking approval, saying that it does not reflect a true consultative meeting of minds.
He also said that there is no evidence that the members saw and understood the emails.
This is a failure to comply with the requirements of the Medical Registration Act and is therefore an invalid decision, he said.
He further argued that the emails withheld crucial information and were worded in a manner that downplayed the reasons why the first committee had stepped down in the first place.
He produced in court an affidavit, which is a written sworn statement, filed by SMC member Dr Wilmot Rasanayagan which said he rejected the appointment of the second DC.
In response to this, the court has reserved judgment and ordered the SMC to provide affidavits from members who received the emails to ascertain that they read and understood the decision by the council.
SMC: Charges should be fully investigated by review
Senior Counsel and lawyer for SMC Alvin Yeo said the court should not dismiss the appeal and a second DC should be allowed to fully investigate the charges.
He said that the formal inquiry could even result in a favourable decision for her.
Even if she is not cleared by the DC, she can appeal, he said.
To the allegations that the decision to appoint a second DC was not a valid one based on the move being called for through email, Mr Yeo said the SMC is allowed by the Medical Registration Act to make decisions as it sees fit.
He said complaints lodged with the SMC must be referred to the complaints committee, and the committee will then order a formal inquiry by calling the accused before a DC.
As the formal inquiry remained incomplete as the first DC has stepped down, it is consistent with the objective of the Medical Registration Act to appoint a second DC to complete the inquiry.
Mr Yeo also refuted the argument by Dr Lim's lawyer that the issue is merely a commercial dispute.
He argued that doctors are expected to charge fairly, and overcharging amounts to professional misconduct.