Time taken to deal with complaint against doctor 'not unusual': SMC

This article is more than 12 months old

The Singapore Medical Council (SMC) has defended itself against criticism that it takes too long to probe complaints against doctors.

It was taken to task last month by the Supreme Court for the more than five years it took to deal with a complaint against private cancer doctor Ang Peng Tiam.

An SMC spokesman told The Straits Times that cases can be complex, as in Dr Ang's case, in which a complaint was made against him in 2010 but the disciplinary hearing ended last year.

So "this timeline is not unusual".

SMC's 2016 report, released last month, showed its Complaints Committee (CC) processed 386 cases last year, including a complaint lodged in 2011, seven in 2012, 14 in 2013, and 63 in 2014. There are 247 cases yet to be looked at.

The spokesman said: "Given the serious nature of many complaints, investigations by a CC usually take at least nine months. For even more complex complaints, investigations may take more than a year."

The spokesman added that after a CC has completed its inquiry, both parties can appeal to the Minister for Health if unhappy with the verdict. The minister might direct the CC to investigate further.

"This will naturally result in a longer period of time taken to dispose of a complaint, as the CC's investigations are carried out over two separate tranches," he said.

But Dr Chia Shi-Lu, head of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, said: "I think many of us agree that the workings of the SMC can be more robust and streamlined. The recent cases that have troubled SMC have made them even more cautious and this has affected expediency."

Describing Dr Ang's case delay as "inordinate", Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said in the Supreme Court judgment on June 27 that if the SMC had difficulty finding expert witnesses locally, it still could have started looking for expert witnesses overseas much earlier.

A member of the Disciplinary Tribunal had recused herself and it took a year for the SMC to set up a second tribunal.

Of the cases the CC handled last year, letters of warning were issued to seven doctors, and letters of advice to 39. It dismissed 71 complaints and referred 14 to disciplinary tribunals, and one doctor to a health committee.