Singapore has aspirations to be a premier destination for medical tourism. It projects itself as a low cost though high quality alternative to other hopefuls, including Thailand and Malaysia.
Quality, of course, is an ongoing and subjective matter. Ethical practices and enforcement of the highest medical standards is important in creating a reputation of excellence.
A few recent incidents have brought to light the importance of maintaining medical standards.
A prominent plastic surgeon injected animal foetal cells into his patients (to retard the ageing process) in violation of Singapore Medical Council (SMC) rules. In another instance, three family doctors inappropriately prescribed potentially addictive medicines to their patients.
The plastic surgeon, Martin Huang, was fined SGD 5,000 for his lapse. He was also 'censured' but allowed to continue his practice unhindered.
A SGD 5,000 fine for a plastic surgeon catering to the region's rich and famous! Call me a sceptic but it seems a little on the light side? The surgeon will recoup the fine in one sitting.
The only thing the fine has achieved is give his business free publicity.
The three family physicians have been fined and suspended from practicing for between 3 and thirty months. I imagine the reasoning has to do with the nature and type of patients a general practitioner receives. SMC is right to deter doctors from improper practices, especially when the general public's welfare is at stake.
However, I can't help believing that there is some sort of a disconnect between the two punishments. It is unlikely that a SGD 5,000 fine on a successful plastic surgeon will act as any sort of a deterrent.
On the contrary, it sends the wrong signal to Huang and his colleagues in the industry.
Is the punishment so light because a plastic surgeon's patients are specialized and aware of the risks of such medication? I don't think even medical professionals know the long term implications of injecting sheep foetal cells into a human.
And where exactly does one even buy sheep foetal cells - I don't think they are available at the local Guardian outlet!
I am a firm believer in self-regulation, especially by professional associations. However, in this event, the SMC will do well to explain its 'punishment' of Martin Huang. A small fine for the premeditated breach of medical ethics seems too much like a nominal slap on the wrist.