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HC Surgical: Julian Ong must get patients' written consent with nurse as witness

Julian Ong - drjulianong.sg_.jpg
If the company exercises the put option, the minimum consideration it receives will be more than the amount it paid to acquire the 70 per cent stake in Dr Ong’s practice.

HC Surgical Specialists’ (HCSS) surgeon Julian Ong is now required to provide all patients with a statement of facts relating to the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) complaint against him.

After reading the statement, patients must provide their written consent for Dr Ong to continue to act as their physician, if they should so agree, HCSS’s board said late Monday night in response to the Singapore Exchange’s (SGX) further queries.

A staff nurse will always be present to witness this process of Dr Ong providing patients with information on the matters alluded to in the SMC complaint. The surgeon will also document in the medical records system that each patient’s consent has been sought, and the name of the witness.

If a patient has questions, they can speak to Dr Ong about their concerns prior to any consultation, in front of another staff nurse, HCSS said.

A woman had lodged the complaint in June 2018 against Dr Ong, whose private practice Julian Ong Endoscopy & Surgery (JOES) is a 70 per cent subsidiary of the healthcare group. She claimed that Dr Ong and another specialist - who is not part of the HCSS group - had colluded to have sex with "vulnerable" female patients.

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The woman also forwarded the complaint to other doctors, prompting Dr Ong to file a defamation lawsuit against her. He lost the suit in early April.

HCSS earlier disclosed that if Dr Ong’s employment is terminated, it will have the option to require him to repurchase the 70 per cent interest in his clinic.

If the company exercises this put option, the minimum consideration it receives will be more than the amount it paid to acquire the 70 per cent stake in Dr Ong’s practice, HCSS told SGX on Monday night.

HCSS first bought a 51 per cent interest in the endoscopy clinic for S$2.2 million in February 2017, before raising its stake by 19 per cent in October 2019 for S$3.8 million.

HCSS also said on Monday that the consideration payable under the put option is based on a percentage of the amount it had paid for the additional 19 per cent interest. “This percentage will decrease with each year of Dr Ong’s employment, given that Dr Ong would have contributed to the HCSS group,” it added.

Dr Ong’s service agreement with the company is for a period of 10 years from April 1, 2017. His employment may be terminated by either party giving three months’ notice. The service agreement can also be terminated by the company under certain circumstances, including Dr Ong being guilty for dishonesty or serious or persistent misconduct, if he does anything which may bring “serious discredit” to any group company or if he is struck off the register of doctors, HCSS noted.

SGX also pointed out that the put option is exercisable within the 30th month and the 48th month of the doctor’s employment with the group, with the 48th month falling on March 31, 2021. 

The bourse operator thus asked HCSS whether there are any provisions to allow for the put option’s exercise period to be extended, in the event there is any protracted delay in the completion of SMC’s ongoing investigation. In response, the company said it is “currently evaluating the potential outcomes that may result from the SMC investigation”. 

When it purchased the additional 19 per cent stake, its plan was to eventually acquire the remaining interest to fully own JOES, barring any unforeseen circumstances, HCSS added.

“It was always the company’s intention to further work with, nurture and monitor the performance of JOES to maximise its return on its investment,” HCSS replied SGX.

As for the remaining 30 per cent interest in the practice, HCSS has not determined whether to proceed with the acquisition seeing as the SMC investigation into the complaint is ongoing, it said on Monday. Last September, the company had announced plans to buy the remaining stake by Oct 31, 2021.

HCSS’s board is satisfied 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.

“As the situation develops, pending the SMC investigation, the board will not hesitate to consider further action that may need to be taken,” HCSS said.

Shares of the healthcare group were flat at S$0.35 as at 9.19am on Tuesday.

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