The Singapore Medical Council (SMC) fined cancer specialist, Ang Peng Tiam of Parkway Cancer Centre last year for professional misconduct. He appealed to the Supreme Court against the SGD25,000 fine and was instead given an eight-month suspension.

8-month suspension could have been longer

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who delivered the Court of Three Judges' decision on 27 June, said that it would have been a 16-month suspension for his “aggravated” professional misconduct had the SMC acted on the complaint more expeditiously.

In 2010, two daughters of Ang’s former patient made a formal complaint against him. The patient, who had stage 2b lung cancer that eventually metastasised, died in October that same year but the SMC only served the notice of enquiry on Ang in April 2015.

Ang claims that, over the last 16 years, he has consulted about 16,000 new patients. Out of these, 10-15% suffered from lung carcinoma. Ang was renowned for working as Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's principal doctor in 1992, when he was being treated for lymphoma.

Ang had a duty to lay out the options for his patient

The 59-year-old cancer surgeon was found guilty of two charges by the SMC’s disciplinary tribunal. The charges were that he made a false representation to the lung cancer patient that there was a “70%” chance of responding to the treatment he suggested and also, he failed to offer her surgery as an option.

When delivering the sentence recently, Menon said, “A doctor might believe that a particular treatment option is in his patient’s best interests, but ultimately, it is the patient who must make the decision on her treatment.”

The tribunal found that Ang “had no reasonable basis” for stating there was a 70% chance of response and thought that he had “wrongly held out false hope” to the patient and her family. The disciplinary tribunal also noted that surgery was “the preferred initial treatment option” and he was found guilty for not offering it.

The disciplinary tribunal found there was an “intentional, deliberate departure from standards observed or approved by members of the profession of good repute and competency” as relayed by SMC in a statement released on 28 June.

SMC initially decided not to impose a suspension given testimonials favouring him and his community work. However, they believed his wrongdoings “merit severe penalty” so they decided to charge him with SGD25,000, an undertaking not to repeat the offence, a censure and he had to bear 60% of the trial costs. Ang appealed against the tribunal’s decision and was slapped with the eight-month suspension instead.

Increase in complaints against doctors

In 2016, SMC received 182 complaints against 242 doctors, an increase from 141 complaints in 2015. For 1,000 doctors, the number of complaints rose from 10.7 to 13.4. “While this constituted an increase of almost 30% compared to the previous calendar year, there was no significant rise in the rate of complaints based on the trend for the past 10 years,” stated SMC in a recent online report. 2014 saw a record number of complaints where, per 1,000 doctors, there were 17.2 complaints.

Alleged breaches of the ethical code and guidelines and services provided that were not of the expected quality made up the basis of complaints for last year. MIMS

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