20 June 2018
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Doc struck off rolls by medical tribunal

Straits Times
14 Jun 2018
K.C. Vijayan

Issue of how dishonesty is treated in medical profession, compared to that of legal, raised

A medical disciplinary tribunal which ordered a doctor to be struck off for two criminal convictions raised the issue of how dishonesty is treated in the medical profession compared to the legal profession in misconduct cases.

Pointing to a recent lecture by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, the tribunal noted that for lawyers, dishonesty resulted in the offender being struck off. But in the medical profession, it led to a fine of about $10,000 in past relevant cases.

The tribunal yesterday published its grounds for removing Dr Winston Lee, 75, from the Register of Medical Practitioners in Singapore after he had pleaded guilty in March to two charges brought by the Singapore Medical Council (SMC).

The SMC charges were based on two prior criminal convictions.

The first SMC charge was related to his conviction in the State Courts for a molestation offence in 2014, for which he served an aggregate 10 months' jail sentence. The tribunal said the molestation offences involved a character defect which made him unfit to be a doctor.

The second SMC charge was related to his conviction for making a false declaration under the Medical Registration Act in 2016, for which he was fined $3,000.

"It is clear that Dr Lee lacks the hallmarks of integrity and honesty which are the necessary attributes of a person entrusted with the responsibilities of a practitioner," said the tribunal comprising the chairman, Dr Joseph Sheares, Professor Lee Eng Hin and the legal service officer, Mr Bala Reddy.

It noted that of the 126 disciplinary cases against doctors reported between 2008 and 2017, only three have resulted in the removal of a doctor from the Register.

"The common thread in these cases seems to be that the doctors in question had flagrantly abused the trust reposed in them as doctors and therefore shown themselves to be unfit to practise medicine," the tribunal said.

In arguing for Dr Lee's removal from the register, counsel for the SMC Anand Nalachandran said disciplinary sanctions were meant to protect the public from the actions of errant doctors, among other things.

Dr Lee's lawyer, Mr Charles Lin, urged leniency and suggested a fine as "just and reasonable" in the case.

He said Dr Lee is not a recalcitrant offender whom the public needs to be protected from.

The tribunal noted the molestation offence involved aggravating factors that harmed and distressed the patient who later needed professional help for almost a year.

As for the second offence, the tribunal expressed serious concern over the dishonesty involved and cited the "insightful comments" of CJ Menon at a lecture in March where he explored the "harmonisation of the treatment of dishonesty in the medical and legal profession in the future".

The tribunal also called on the SMC to consider the early appointment of an Interim Orders Committee (IOC), "especially where charges against the relevant medical practitioner has already been proven in a criminal court".

An IOC is needed to consider if interim orders, such as a suspension, is necessary in the public interest.

In Dr Lee's case, an IOC was not appointed after he was charged, or after his appeal was concluded.

As such, the tribunal said he was able to "locum carte blanche", or work without restriction as a locum, since his release in August 2016, and noted it was fortunate he did not reoffend during this period. It held removing Dr Lee's name from the register was a sufficient deterrent and proportionate to Dr Lee's errant actions taken as a whole. He was also ordered to pay costs.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.