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Complaint against HC Surgical's Julian Ong moved to SMC disciplinary tribunal

THE complaint made against surgeon Julian Ong with the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) will progress to a disciplinary tribunal (DT).

Dr Ong informed HC Surgical Specialists' (HCSS) board of this development on Tuesday, HCSS said in a bourse filing on Wednesday before the market opened.

In June 2018, Serene Tiong lodged the complaint against the doctor, whose private practice is a 70 per cent-owned subsidiary of HCSS, claiming that he and another specialist colluded to have sex with "vulnerable" female patients.

Ms Tiong then forwarded the complaint to other doctors, prompting Dr Ong to file a defamation lawsuit against her. He lost the suit early last month, when District Judge Lynette Yap dismissed his action with costs, finding that Ms Tiong's claims were justified.

HCSS on Wednesday said it will release further announcements to update its shareholders of any material developments.

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In the event that the medical watchdog takes adverse action against Dr Ong, the group will "make the necessary assessment and reallocate resources to its other specialists", depending on the severity, timing and duration of the action, HCSS said on April 24.

HCSS's board also said last month that it has put in place the necessary measures to protect the company's and shareholders' interests in the event of an adverse outcome from the SMC probe.

At present, a complaint made to the SMC will either be sent to a complaints committee (CC) or referred directly to a DT. The CC can then refer the complaint to a DT, issue a letter of advice or warning, dismiss the complaint or recommend mediation.

Last December, the SMC had told Ms Tiong that the CC looking into her complaint was at its inquiry's final stage. The HCSS board had been waiting for the CC's decision before determining whether any further action is required.

The DT will conduct a formal inquiry into the matters indicated in the complaint, and the SMC will engage lawyers to act as prosecutors and draft charges of professional misconduct against the doctor, according to the website for the Singapore Medical Association's Centre for Medical Ethics and Professionalism (CMEP).

The DT hearing is similar to a trial, the CMEP website states. The tribunal will make its findings in relation to the facts of the case, and may or may not take disciplinary action afterwards.

The Straits Times reported in December 2019 that an official panel has proposed improvements to the SMC's disciplinary process.

Meanwhile, on April 30 this year, Ms Tiong's solicitors Ong Ying Ping ESQ sent a letter claiming that HCSS chief executive officer (CEO) and executive director Heah Sieu Min breached his duties as a director. This was in relation to the group's acquisition of an additional 19 per cent in Dr Ong's practice in late-2019.

Ms Tiong's lawyers sent another letter on May 8 to WongPartnership, HCSS's legal advisers, informing the company that she was giving the requisite 14 days' notice of her intention to apply to the court under Section 216A(2) of the Companies Act for leave to bring an action in the company's name against the CEO in respect of the allegation.

Shares of the Catalist-listed medical services group fell 0.5 Singapore cent or 1.5 per cent to trade at 32 cents as at 11.38am on Wednesday.

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