Singapore — On May 21 (Tuesday), as a result of new information arising, the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) announced that it would be applying to the Court of Three Judges to overturn the conviction of Dr Soo Shuenn Chiang, who was fined S$50,000.
In March, Dr Soo was found guilty of failing to maintain patient confidentiality by the Court of Three Judges.
The doctor, who is a psychiatrist, allegedly divulged confidential information over the phone with the patient’s brother, who had pretended to be the patient’s husband. Dr Soo had apparently failed to verify the identity of the person on the other end of the phone.
The SMC claims to have new information that had previously not been given to its disciplinary tribunal during the investigation of the case.
This information, which had come to light when the Council took the statements of the patient’s husband and brother, “raises doubt on the circumstances surrounding the incident.”
According to the SMC, “These statements were not obtained by the Complaints Committee prior to its referral of the patient’s complaint against Dr Soo for a formal inquiry by a disciplinary tribunal.”
The Council also said that it would furnish the court with this information as well, and include it in the application to reverse Dr Soo’s guilty verdict.
It is the role of the Court of Three Judges to establish guidelines for the SCM regarding the prosecution of medical professionals. The Council also reviews the decisions of SMC’s disciplinary tribunal.
Dr Soo’s case
In 2015, Dr Soo’s patient lodged a complaint about him with the SMC because of the following circumstances: Her brother, who had pretended to be her husband, called Dr Soo, who had been seen by the doctor due to adjustment disorder, depressed mood and alcohol misuse. She has a history of depression and was at risk for self-harm.
After the call, the doctor wrote a memo referring the patient to the Institute of Mental Health.
Later, the patient’s brother was able to obtain a personal protection order against the patient, using the memo from Dr Soo, the director of the neuroscience clinic at the National University Hospital.
The disciplinary tribunal that investigated the complaint the patient made found that Dr Soo’s actions had been a cause of great distress to the patient, and he was fined the amount of S$50,000m as well as ordered to pay court costs.
Many members of the medical community protested against the penalty meted to Dr Soo, to the point of circulating online petitions against what they deemed to be an extraordinarily harsh consequence.
The SMC applied to the High Court on March 14 to extend the time to appeal for a reduced fine for Dr Soo.
The brother of the patient posted on social media saying that he had contacted Dr Soo with the consent of the patient’s husband. This led SMC to contact the two men in order to get new statements from them.
According to the council, “As the new information raises doubt on the circumstances surrounding the incident, in the interest of justice, the SMC will be applying to the Court of Three Judges for Dr Soo’s conviction to be set aside.
The SMC will provide the new information to the Court of Three Judges as part of this application.”
The Ministry of Health has also stepped in, forming a workgroup to review the disciplinary processes of the Council and to make recommendations for changes as they see fit.
SMC said that it will fully support “the workgroup’s independent review and continue to review its disciplinary processes and ensure that all complaints are thoroughly investigated prior to any referral to a disciplinary tribunal.”/ TISG