International Business & Economy HOME: Disciplinary action against doctor a significant step in fight against unethical...

HOME: Disciplinary action against doctor a significant step in fight against unethical practices

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On 10 May 2016, the Court of Three Judges heard an appeal filed by the Singapore Medical Council (“SMC”) against the decision of a Disciplinary Tribunal (“DT”) to acquit Dr Wong Him Choon (“Dr Wong”) of professional misconduct.
The Court allowed the SMC’s appeal and convicted Dr Wong of professional misconduct. Dr Wong was sentenced to 6 months’ suspension.
The complaint against the Orthopaedic Surgeon at Raffles Orthopaedic Centre located at Raffles Hospital (“RH”), was lodged by a representative of Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME), an advocacy and welfare group for migrant workers.
The following is HOME’s press statement about the case.

1) In 2011, Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) filed a complaint against Dr Wong Him Choon of Raffles Hospital for only issuing 2 days medical leave and subsequently 1 month of light duty leave to a construction worker, despite the fact that he had suffered a fracture which required surgery. We are heartened by the High Court’s decision and glad that justice has been served.
2) The complaint was made because of grave concerns that doctors might be in collusion with companies to discourage workers from taking medical leave, and filing work injury compensation claims, even though the workers were seriously injured.
3) HOME was seeing an average of 15 workers a year from doctors in various private medical clinics and hospitals and we were disturbed by the increase in such cases. We also faced challenges assisting some workers to file complaints against doctors as they were afraid of reprisals from their companies.
4) At the core of these abuses lies the unethical benefits employers gain from their workers only getting 2 day’s medical leave. As it was a requirement for employers to report workplace accidents if the medical leave given was 3 days or more, issuing 2 days gives employers allows employers to escape reporting to the authorities. After much advocacy from NGOs highlighting this loophole in the law, the 3 day medical leave requirement has since been changed.
5) Another significant benefit employers gain from this practice is the maintenance of their safety records, specifically their Loss Time Injury (LTI) record. HOME has encountered a case where a worker’s supervisor told him that the reason his work injury was not reported was to preserve the company’s “no accident” record of over 1 million hours.
6) This results in an unethical and symbiotic relationship between the employer and the doctor as employers are willing to pay a premium for treatment if it means net savings and benefits accrued at the expense of their worker’s well-being, and the doctors are assured a steady flow of patients from companies from the various industries that rely heavily on foreign labour.
7) Other than serving as a barrier to legal recourse for their injuries, issuing insufficient medical leave deprives workers of the much needed rest they need after sustaining such serious injuries. Often times, the injured workers are given ‘light duties’ on top of the 1 or 2 day’s medical leave. Some employers then make the workers do menial office tasks, if the worker wants to be paid wages for the duration that he is on light duties.
8) HOME urges doctors in Singapore to take a stand against such practices because in addition to tarnishing the image of the medical profession, it has adverse consequences for the health and wellbeing of workers.

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