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Disciplinary action against doctor a significant development in fight against unethical practices

Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME)'s statement on the judgement passed by the High Court to suspend Dr Wong Him Choon for six months after hearing an appeal by the Singapore Medical Council on the earlier decision by a Disciplinary Tribunal to acquit Dr Wong of professional misconduct.

In 2011, Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) filed a complaint against Dr Wong Him Choon of Raffles Hospital for only issuing 2 days medical leave and subsequently 1 month of light duty leave to a construction worker, despite the fact that he had suffered a fracture which required surgery. We are heartened by the High Court’s decision and glad that justice has been served.

The complaint was made because of grave concerns that doctors might be in collusion with companies to discourage workers from taking medical leave, and filing work injury compensation claims, even though the workers were seriously injured.

HOME was seeing dozens of workers from doctors in various private medical clinics and hospitals and we were disturbed by the increase in such cases. We also faced challenges assisting some workers to file complaints against doctors as they were afraid of reprisals from their companies.

At the core of these abuses lies the unethical benefits employers gain from their workers only getting 2 day’s medical leave. As it was a requirement for employers to report workplace accidents if the medical leave given was for at least 3 consecutive days, issuing 2 days gives employers allows employers to escape reporting to the authorities. After much advocacy from NGOs highlighting this loophole in the law, the 3 consecutive day medical leave requirement has since been changed. However, despite this improvement, HOME still sees at least 15 workers a year who are not given sufficient medical leave.

Another significant benefit employers gain from this practice is the maintenance of their safety records, specifically their Loss Time Injury (LTI) record. HOME has encountered a case where a worker’s supervisor told him that the reason his work injury was not reported was to preserve the company’s “no accident” record of over 1 million hours.

This results in an unethical and symbiotic relationship between the employer and the doctor as employers are willing to pay a premium for treatment if it means net savings and benefits accrued at the expense of their worker’s well-being, and the doctors are assured a steady flow of patients from companies from the various industries that rely heavily on foreign labour.

Other than serving as a barrier to legal recourse for their injuries, issuing insufficient medical leave deprives workers of the much needed rest they need after sustaining such serious injuries. Often times, the injured workers are given ‘light duties’ on top of the 1 or 2 day’s medical leave. Some employers then make the workers do menial office tasks, if the worker wants to be paid wages for the duration that he is on light duties.

HOME urges doctors in Singapore to take a stand against such practices because in addition to tarnishing the image of the medical profession, it has adverse consequences for the health and wellbeing of workers.

Read -
Grounds of decision for the Disciplinary Tribunal
Decision of Court of Appeal to sentence Dr Wong to six months of suspension