SINGAPORE – A doctor who was arrested for multiple drug offences, including taking methamphetamine, has been demoted from a fully registered physician to one who can practise only under supervision.
Dr Damian Yeo Eng Hui, 32, now a resident at the emergency medicine department of Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), was also ordered to attend drug rehabilitation sessions.
The sanctions were handed down by a disciplinary tribunal to Dr Yeo for bringing disrepute to the medical profession through his misconduct.
According to the tribunal’s grounds of decision published this week, the case could be the first time such a sanction under the Medical Registration Act was considered.
Dr Yeo was a senior resident physician at TTSH when he was arrested on Aug 1, 2017, by the Central Narcotics Bureau.
He had consumed methampetamine, commonly known as Ice, and was in possession of 2.69g of Ice, three tablets of sedative Nimetazepam and drug-taking utensils, namely, a lighter, cut straws and a syringe.
He was sent to the Drug Rehabilitation Centre (DRC) on Aug 8, 2017, for his drug consumption offence, and given a stern warning for the other offences.
Dr Yeo lost his job because of his “gross misconduct” but he was re-employed on Dec 19, 2017, and his employment has been renewed until Dec 28, 2021.
In discplinary proceedings brought by the Singapore Medical Council (SMC), he pleaded guilty on May 8 this year to a charge of improper conduct that brings disrepute to the profession.
The SMC argued that he should be downgraded from a fully registered doctor to one with conditions and restrictions within a supervisory framework for two years.
Drug offences are “extremely serious” and Dr Yeo was arrested for not just one, but multiple offences, the SMC argued.
Dr Yeo’s lawyer argued that a censure was sufficient, citing two precedents involving doctors who were convicted and jailed for drug offences.
Dr Yeo had committed the offences in a moment of folly owing to the pressures of work and has made good progress in his rehabilitation regime, said his lawyer.
The doctor said under oath that he was off duty on the day of his arrest and the day before.
After considering the arguments, the tribunal ordered Dr Yeo’s status to be downgraded for 18 months, during which he also has to attend regular sessions with an approved addictions specialist.
“Being a doctor practising emergency medicine in a major hospital, the professional competence of the respondent in treating and not doing harm to patients would be placed in question upon his arrest for possessing and consuming illicit drugs,” said the tribunal.
A censure, being a formal statement of disapproval, was wholly inadequate to send the message that such misconduct will not be condoned, it added.
The tribunal also said rehabilitation was appropriate, given that Dr Yeo was young, has a promising career ahead of him and appears to have the support of his colleagues and superiors.
This was in line with the present focus on rehabilitating drug offenders, said the tribunal, citing recent changes to the law to channel “pure abusers” to the DRC instead of sending them to jail.
As for the precedents, the tribunal said the doctors in those cases were convicted of drug possession, not consumption. It added that their sentences, in 2007 and 2014, may have been lenient.