The Court of Three Judges’ decision to uphold a disciplinary tribunal’s (DT) decision to make the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) pay the legal costs of a plastic surgeon’s case evoked a sense of conflict within me (SMC loses appeal, must pay surgeon’s legal fees for disciplinary hearing, Sept 5).
On the one hand, I rejoice with my colleague’s triumph that the Court had upheld the DT’s decision against the patient. At the same time, I feel dismayed that the SMC is now required to pay the costs of the surgeon’s legal fees, because one wonders if, eventually, that cost would be transferred to me as a registered doctor.
In truth, when divided among all the medical professionals registered with the SMC, it would probably be a small quantum, but if more such instances were to come, it could add up to a significant amount. This would inevitably lead to an increase in our SMC registration fees, which have risen steadily over the years.
I note that the DT found this patient to be a “sophisticated, capable and highly educated professional” whose complaints were “vexatious and baseless”, her allegations false and that she had lied in other areas. This is startlingly similar to what Lord Bannatyne said of Mrs Nadine Montgomery in her suit against the Lanarkshire Health Board. He assessed her to be a highly intelligent person, who appeared to be “rewriting history in the light of the outcome”, with a “pattern of overstatement and exaggeration”.
This is also consistent with studies which show that 48 per cent of patients imagine or misconstrue what was said to them during a medical consultation, an occurrence not uncommon in my experience.
Unfortunately, the Scottish Supreme Court overruled Lord Bannatyne’s judgment without re-examining Mrs Montgomery as a witness and awarded her £5.25 million in damages. Sadly, this case formed the basis for the standard of informed consent.
It appears that, as a consequence of the Montgomery case, more patients are emboldened to submit complaints to the SMC when unfavourable treatment outcomes occur, disputing the validity of their documented consent. It is troubling that the SMC complaints committee sought to escalate this case and convene a DT. It is distressing that innocent parties may now be called upon indirectly to pay for the SMC’s legal fees.
The complainant in this case was found to have lied and is therefore possibly guilty of perjury. Has justice truly been served if she is exempt from paying costs arising from her baseless complaint?
Mona Tan (Dr)