Following an outcry from the medical community, the Ministry of Health (MOH) is looking into the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) decision to fine a psychiatrist S$50,000 for failing to maintain patient confidentiality.
On Thursday, a petition was started in support of Dr Shoo Shuenn Chiang of the National University Hospital (NHU). The petition had garnered over 2,000 signatures before it was taken down later that day. The psychiatrist who started the petition, Ganesh Kudva, has yet to comment on why the petition was removed.
In the petition, Dr Kudva highlighted the legal and ethical issues arising from this case, describing them as ‘ambiguous at best’. He added that “what isn’t ambiguous is the harshness of the punishment that has been meted out”.
“The ruling muddies the waters of balancing confidentiality and risk, and may even affect patient care moving forward, as one can no longer be sure of what the benchmark is any longer. What’s happened to Dr (Soo) could have happened to any of us and each of us could be in the dock one day unless there is some systemic change now,” he wrote.
A spokesperson for the MOH said that the ministry if aware of the petition and that they are looking into the disciplinary tribunal’s judgement.
SMC found that Dr Soo, the clinical director of the Department of Psychological Medicine, had failed to verify the identify of a caller before writing a memo to refer a patient to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH). The caller had claimed to be the patient’s husband but was in fact her brother.
The patient in question has been admitted to NUH for an overdose of pain-relief drugs and noted to have a risk of self-harm.
Two months after being discharged, Dr Soo received a call from the patient’s brother who claimed she was suicidal and needed an assessment at the IMH. Dr Soo, without checking the caller’s identity or verifying it against the hospital, proceeded to write a memo containing the patients confidential medical information. He had instructed his clinic staff to give the memo to the caller, believing it to be the patient’s husband.
However, the man used that memo in an application for a personal protection order against the patient, which the Family Court granted.
Consequently, the patient filed a complaint against Dr Soo for failing to verify the caller’s identity. Dr Soo’s lawyer argued that Dr Soo had seen 17 patients over the course of that day and this was merely an ‘honest oversight’
Speaking to TODAY, the doctors who united behind Dr Soo said they felt the fine was overly harsh and that Dr Soo was acting in good faith in protecting the patient.
A separate petition was started on Friday, 8 March, urging the SMC to consider the ruling’s impact on medical practice. This petition gathered over 7,000 signatures by Saturday.
This isn’t the first petition in recent times initiated by doctors against an SMC ruling. In January, petition against the SMC decision to fine a private orthopaedic surgeon for not disclosing all possible side effects of an injection given to his patient garnered close to 6,000 signatures. The petition demanded that the MOH clarify its stance on informed consent for minor procedures.