Two senior doctors were recently suspended for professional misconduct toward a patient.
Their suspensions, however, were just tripled upon appeal.
Here’s how it happened.
Original Suspensions “Manifestly Inadequate”
Colorectal surgeon Julian Ong Kian Peng’s and psychiatrist Chan Herng Nieng’s appeals against their convictions and suspensions were dismissed by a Court of Three Judges on Friday (2 Dec).
Instead, Dr Ong’s suspension increased from eight months to two years, and Dr Chan’s suspension rose from five to eighteen months.
Not quite the result they had in mind.
The two doctors had been exchanging messages discussing the sexual exploitation of a female patient, referred to as “K”, under Dr Ong.
Fortunately, “K” did not meet with any actual harm from the doctors.
When charges were first brought against the two doctors, both claimed trial.
Eventually, they were each convicted on a single charge of improper conduct bringing disrepute to the medical profession under the Medical Registration Act.
Both doctors appealed against their convictions and sentences, but their appeal was not unopposed. The Singapore Medical Council (SMC), the body regulating the professional conduct of medical practitioners in Singapore, counter-appealed for longer suspensions for both doctors.
The appeals were heard by the Court of Three Judges, the highest disciplinary body dealing with the misconduct of doctors.
Dating A Married Woman
The doctors have been involved in several legal suits in recent years after Dr Chan started dating a married woman, Ms Serene Tiong Sze Yin.
Ms Tiong had discovered the explicit text messages exchanged between the two doctors, discussing their sexual exploits with other women.
She then filed a complaint with the SMC, sparking the launch of investigations and disciplinary proceedings.
Perhaps women do have a sixth sense, after all.
Abuse of A Patient’s Trust for Potential Sexual Benefit
“It is clear that this is a case that involves significant harm to public confidence in the medical profession. What Dr Ong did was an abuse of the trust and confidence that a patient had reposed in him for the potential sexual benefit of Dr Chan,” said the judges.
The judges also added that the doctors’ conduct was disrespectful to K, and also dehumanised her into nothing but an object for sexual gratification.
The doctors’ actions also caused K to suffer humiliation and indignity, especially given that K was Dr Ong’s patient.
“If actual physical harm had been caused to K, the sanction called for would likely have been a striking out order,” the judges said.
“In our judgment, the harm to public confidence cannot be understated. Patients are entitled to expect that their doctors will display a high standard of professional conduct in their dealings and interactions with them. This extends to how doctors handle their personal information and details even after their interactions end.”
The seniority of both doctors in the profession further amplifies the impact of their misconduct.
Dr Ong’s claim of remorse was also negated by his oral testimony, where he maintained that there was “nothing sexual” and no professional misconduct.
Really shot yourself in the foot there, Dr Ong.
The judges eventually increased the sentences for both doctors.
The Disciplinary Tribunal’s orders for both doctors to be censured and to provide a written undertaking remain.
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Featured Image: Julian Ong Endoscopy & Surgery + SingHealth Research
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