September Ramblings

2021 seems to be flying past even faster than 2020. Before we know it, we are now down to the last one-third of the year. Gone even faster is the immunity protection afforded by vaccination with Covid-19 vaccines. The government has officially announced that those aged 60 or above, living in aged-care institutions or above and those that are moderately or severely immunocompromised should go for their booster shots.

This hobbit is wondering why healthcare workers (HCWs) are omitted in this first batch of booster-eligible people. After all, HCWs are working in high-risk environments and pose a significant risk to the people they care for should breakthrough infections occur. Also, HCWs are the earliest folks to be vaccinated. Many HCWs were vaccinated even before senior citizens at the beginning of this year. This hobbit hopes HCWs will get their booster shots soon.

We now move on to something that is rather confusing to this hobbit. This hobbit must state that the confusion may probably have arisen because this Hobbit is completely untrained and insufficiently informed in matters concerning the law.

An anaesthetist/pain specialist was recently acquitted of molest by the State Courts of Singapore when the prosecution, i.e. Attorney-General Chambers (AGC) withdrew the charges. However the AGC apparently subsequently disagreed with some things that the doctor’s lawyer did or said and then released two press statements in as many days. In both statements, the way in which the molest was alleged to have taken place were described in quite graphic detail, including how the molester touched the victim’s hips, cupped her breasts and how high the arms of the victim were raised. Both statements strongly suggested that the AGC believed the victim/complainant did not lie.

And yet, the charges were withdrawn, because apparently there were inconsistencies in the evidence garnered from various sources and that from the AGC’s perspective, the high threshold necessary to secure a conviction could not be reached.

Let us first view this from the victim’s perspective. If the molestation did take place, then, we could well have an honest, molest victim out there whose case has been dropped by the AGC due to technical points of the law that few lay people would really understand. This would be a double blow, tragedy upon tragedy for the victim. One cannot imagine the mental devastation that this person has to go through, first to be molested, and then to have the case withdrawn by the public prosecutor because of legal technicalities. There is no closure, and there will probably be life-long and deep emotional scars in this victim’s psyche. It would not be surprising if she would need long-term professional psychological support. My heart goes out to her if she was indeed molested and yet her case was dropped, especially when (according to AGC) there is no evidence to show she lied.

On the other hand, if the accused was innocent and accordingly acquitted, this hobbit can imagine that the first thing the accused wants is to get on with his life, especially when he and his family had in the preceding four years suffered so much indignity and emotional upheaval. Yet, he now sees press statements describing his alleged molestation in detail being made because of some dispute between the AGC and his lawyer. At the emotional level, there is probably no closure for him as well, even though he has been acquitted.

They say the truth shall set you free but frankly, to this legally-ignorant and legally-untrained hobbit, both of the above scenarios come off as rather confusing if not unsatisfying. 

Let’s finally move on to some good news.

The latest SMC Annual Report was released to the profession on 30 Aug 2021. It is a fine document with purported efficacy against insomnia and/or constipation. Anecdotal experience also suggests that reading the case reports of SMC Disciplinary Tribunal outcomes can suffuse the reader with a surreal sense of misplaced schadenfreude.

Fear not, this Hobbit will summarise the Report so that you can have more time during the Pandemic to purse your Covid-related hobbies, such as and baking sourdough and pottery (i.e. baking mud).

First the good news. The number of complaints lodged with the SMC has plunged. While many may ascribe this to Covid-19, the fact is the numbers have been steadily falling since 2016. The last year merely accelerated this trend. The numbers don’t lie:

YearNumber
2016242
2017206
2018200
2019173
2020118

This decline in absolute numbers, more than half, is made all the more remarkable when you consider that the number of doctors has increased significantly over the same period (from 13478 to 15430, an increase of 1952 doctors or 14.5%). The complaints rate has declined from 18.0 per 1000 doctors in 2016 to 7.6 per 1000 in 2020.

Somehow, this hobbit doesn’t think the mainstream media will report this very encouraging trend.

From 2018 to 2020, the five commonest categories of complaints were (in order of descending number of complaints)

  • Rudeness/Attitude/ Communication Issues
  • Unnecessary/Inappropriate Treatment
  • Professional Negligence/Incompetence
  • Misdiagnosis
  • Consent-Related Issues

2020 also marks the year that the number of doctors exceeded 15,000 for the first time in Singapore. About one-third of these work in the private sector and about 39% are specialists.

Over the last five years, it is noteworthy that the number of new provisional registrations (i.e. housemen) have risen from the low 500s to almost 600 a year. About 150 are foreign graduates while the remainder come from the three local medical schools.

For the specialists, it is interesting to note that the five fastest-growing specialties from 2016 to 2020 in terms of percentage growth were:

SpecialtyPercentage Increase
Emergency Medicine43.6
Geriatric Medicine41.9
Orthopaedics37.6
Rehab Medicine30.0
Urology29.9

The five fastest growing specialties in terms of absolute numbers for the same period are:

SpecialtyIncrease In Number
Orthopaedics82
Paediatrics76
Anaesthesia73
Diagnostic Radiology71
Emergency Medicine/General SurgeryBoth specialties 68

Looking at these numbers, one must really ask – is the growth in both percentage and absolute number of doctors and specialists sustainable? While we are in the middle of the Pandemic, we certainly want as many doctors as can get our hands on. But when life settles down in a post-Covid world, can we keep up with this growth rate?

In 2020, the number of doctors who did not renew their practising certificates was 81. The nett increase in doctors was 554 for 2020, 542 for 2019 and 390 in 2018. It remains to be seen if the recent cutback in the number of medical schools recognised by SMC will have an appreciable effect on the number of foreign trained doctors returning or coming back to work in Singapore in the coming years. But if the current trends continue, we are talking about a nett increase of a thousand doctors every two to three years.

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