Seeking Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treatment for a pain in her shoulder, a 54-year-old woman visited Raffles Chinese Medicine (RCM), a unit of Raffles Medical Group, only to be left with third-degree burns on her arm.

The woman, a finance and human resources director who wanted to be known only as Ms Tan, commenced legal action in April this year against TCM physician Jin Jinhua and her employer RCM, for alleged negligence and breach of contractual agreement.

Initially she approached RCM unrepresented but was not agreeable to the compensation of SGD14,400 they had offered. Therefore, she sought the help of lawyer Raj Singh Shergill who helped Ms Tan to obtain a sum of SGD50,000 in a private settlement with Ms Jin, without an admission of liability on both parties.

Mr Shergill previously handled a similar case last year.

Moxibustion treatment gone wrong

Ms Tan first visited the clinic for four or five acupuncture sessions but did not see any improvement to her condition. Her physician, Jin Jinhua, then suggested a treatment called moxibustion on 11 April, and insisted it was risk free, according to court documents.

Moxibustion involves the burning of mugwort on or near the skin and in Ms Tan's case, a mildly heated container was strapped to her arm and heat-generating bulbs were focused towards her left arm. Ms Jin then left the room for 15 minutes.

“It was very hot, and I was in pain. I tried to flip the container off but because of the position I was in, I couldn’t. And there was a rattling sound so I was afraid I might accidentally cause the place to catch fire," said Ms Tan.

Upon her return, Ms Jin was alarmed to find that blisters had formed on Ms Tan's arm, according to court documents.

She also apologised to Ms Tan for not leaving a bell to be rung if she needed help. Ms Jin proceeded to use an acupuncture needle to burst the blisters and bandaged the area, saying that it was likely to subside.

Ms Tan paid SGD108 for the session and left the clinic.

Third-degree burns, painful blisters and a scar for life

"When I got home, the blister became bigger and the pressure was just building up inside it," Ms Tan recounted.

The blister also did not subside after a few days and swelled with fluid. She sought the help of a dermatologist friend who gave her instructions to relieve the pain. She later consulted a plastic surgeon and aesthetic doctor, and was told she had third-degree burns.

Ms Tan has since spent more than SGD4,000 to heal the wound over a month and has begun laser treatment to smoothen the 4cm by 3cm scar. Doctors told her she may have to continue the laser treatment for another year, although the scar is likely to be permanent.

"Even till today, I felt that I should have shouted for help. I still ask myself why didn't I do so," she said, adding that since the incident, she would feel uneasy whenever she hears a sizzling sound.

"I just hope that more people will be aware of the risks involved in going for such TCM treatments and not let their guard down," she added.

Physician was previously disciplined

A spokesman for RCM said that "the settlement agreement was negotiated independently by the physician with the patient directly. As part of the settlement agreement, the patient released Raffles Chinese Medicine from liability.”

The spokesman also added that RCM has protocols in place which are "constantly reinforced" to its physicians.

According to court documents, Ms Jin has been formerly fined and censured by the TCM Practitioners Board in 2015 for having acted improperly, negligently and beyond her permitted area of expertise.

Ms Jin has left shortly after the incident involving Ms Tan. MIMS

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