The hospital cited “conduct incompatible with the values and standards expected of employees” and the alleged misuse of resources for personal pursuits as reasons for firing Mr Ngerng from his job as a patient coordinator at the Communicable Disease Centre (CDC) at TTSH.
Days earlier, Mr Lee Hsien Loong had commenced legal action against Mr Ngerng for alleged defamation in an article which Mr Ngerng had published on his blog site.
Mr Lee is also the Prime Minister of Singapore.
TTSH’s statement also said, “Mr Ngerng’s conduct was incompatible with the values and standards we expect of our employees.”
Shortly after TTSH’s public announcement of the termination of Mr Ngerng’s services, the MOH issued its own regarding the matter.
The ministry said it supported TTSH’s decision to terminate Mr Ngerng’s contract, citing the same reasons given by TTSH – that Mr Ngerng’s “actions show a lack of integrity and are incompatible with the values and standards of behaviour expected of hospital employees.”
The sacking was seen by some as politically motivated.
Mr Ngerng himself had said he felt the termination of his services was a result of what had transpired in the days and weeks earlier.
On 25 June, website TR Emeritus ( http://tremeritus.com ) questioned what these “values and standards of behaviour” cited by both the MOH and TTSH were.
TR Emeritus (TRE) said it had, in 2012, reported the case of a foreign doctor by the name of Jay Lu Jiade who had been employed by the National University Hospital (NUH).
Dr Lu was working in the Department of Medicine, National University of Singapore (NUS), and he was also the Head of Radiation Oncology Department, National University Cancer Institute, Singapore (NCIS).
A reader had written to TRE to relate how a family member had been referred to Dr Lu for further consultation. In order to find out more about the doctor, the family member conducted a “5 minute” google search.
To her shock, she discovered that Dr Lu “had his medical practising licence revoked (in Florida) or questioned in several states [Florida, New York, Indiana] in the U.S. since Jan 2002.”
Dr Lu was evidently being investigated for the illegal sale of the drug, Viagra, on the Internet “without making a diagnosis nor performing an examination on the patient – gross violation of acceptable medical procedures.” (MSN news)
“[His] licence was subsequently revoked after he failed to show up at a Florida hearing as summons were sent to the wrong address, or so he claims,” MSN news reported.
The TRE reader then immediately sent an email to the NUS, NUH, the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) and MOH.
“In the letter,” TRE said, “the reader asked if NUH and the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) knew about this and why had NUH hired him and why had the SMC granted him a licence to practise in Singapore, given his background.”
The reader said:
“Even more disturbing, Dr Lu is now in senior leadership position at NUH (Medical Board, Vice Chairman for Research), National Cancer Institute Singapore (Head and Senior Consultant, Radiation-Oncology) and NUS (teaching staff).”
She questioned the checks carried out by the hospital before a person was hired, especially to senior positions within the hospital.
She said, “I am concern what values are imparted to our young training doctors, given that NUH/NUS is a major teaching hospital in Singapore.”
In its response to the matter, the NUH said it supported Dr Lu.
“The National University Hospital (NUH) and the National University Cancer Institute, Singapore (NCIS) have looked into claims that a doctor on the staff of NCIS was hired to work here even though his practicing certificate had been revoked in the United States,” the NUH said.
The hospital’s statement said Dr Lu had informed the hospital that “he very much regretted his 1999 involvement in the online prescription of drugs, which he puts down to a lapse of judgement.”
“It is an error for which he has already been penalized by the US medical authorities where these offences occurred.”
However, it was pointed out by TRE that the NUH had hired Dr Lu in 2001 – while he was still being investigated by the US authorities.
Dr Lu’s Florida medical licence was revoked in 2003 by Florida’s Board of Medicine.
The Board of Medicine charged Dr Lu with “2 specifications of professional misconduct”, and that he had failed to practice medicine with that level of care, skill and treatment which is recognized by a reasonably prudent similar physician as being acceptable under similar conditions and circumstances:
Dispensing a legend drug without performing an examination of the patient;
Dispensing a legend drug without making a diagnosis;
Dispensing a legend drug without establishing a treatment plan.
The Board also found that Dr Lu inappropriately dispensed Viagra and failed to keep medical records of patients:
Failing to document an examination of the patient before prescribing a legend drug;
Failing to document a diagnosis before prescribing a legend drug;
Failing to document a treatment plan before prescribing a legend drug.
According to TRE, which had provided documented proof of the case against Dr Lu by the state of Florida, on Sep 24, 2003 Dr Lu was ordered to pay a $10,000.00 civil penalty and had a public reprimand placed on his permanent record, because he had his license to practice medicine revoked by the proper licensing authority of another state (Florida).
At the time that NUH had hired Dr Lu, the MOH did not make any public statement on the hospital’s human resource decisions, unlike in Mr Ngerng’s case.
In September 2012, TRE wrote to the SMC for comments regarding Dr Lu’s case.
The SMC is a statutory board under MOH, and is in charge of governing and regulating the professional conduct and ethics of registered medical practitioners in Singapore.
The Council replied:
“The SMC is aware of Dr Lu’s case and processes have been underway to review this matter fully. Presently, the requisite processes will take its course to balance fairness to the practitioner and safety to the public.”
It added then:
“As the case is now pending, it is not appropriate for the SMC to comment further.”
A month later, TRE enquired again with the SMC on the matter.
The SMC responded by saying it was still reviewing Dr Lu’s case.
“Since then, 1 year 9 months have passed,” TRE said. “Nothing is heard from SMC. A check on its website also showed that SMC has not published any grounds of decision on Dr Jay Lu yet.
“It is not known why SMC is taking so long to come to a decision. Perhaps it is still contemplating if Dr Lu’s illegal online viagra selling is ‘compatible with the values and standards of behaviour expected of hospital employees’?”
Comparisons between the two cases – that of Mr Ngerng and Dr Lu – have raised questions of what exactly are the “values and standards” which the MOH referred to in supporting the sacking of Mr Ngerng.
Why is one who had transgressed the law in another country and who had been found guilty of “professional misconduct” allowed to practice and hold such senior positions in one of our hospitals; while a lower-ranked employee is fired for what some may see as lesser contraventions in a personal and private dispute?
The unusual MOH statement supporting the sacking of Mr Ngerng by TTSH has raised concerns that the MOH is indeed engaged in politically-motivated actions unbecoming of a public institution, given that the MOH has remained silent on the case regarding Dr Lu who, incidentally, has been allowed to work here for at least 11 years since being hired by NUH in 2001.
Should Dr Lu be allowed to practise in Singapore? Vote and voice your opinion here: “This doctor should not be allowed to practise in Singapore“.
Read TRE’s detailed report of the case here: “Associate Professor of Medicine at the National University of Singapore is a disqualified ex-medical doctor in Florida”.