SINGAPORE: A doctor who was arrested for drug offences, including taking methamphetamine, has been demoted and ordered by a disciplinary tribunal to undergo supervision and rehabilitation.
Dr Damian Yeo Eng Hui was arrested by Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) officers on Aug 1, 2017 for taking meth, being in possession of 2.69g of meth and three tablets of depressant Nimetazepam, and possessing drug-taking utensils, including a lighter, cut straws and a syringe.
According to the National Council Against Drug Abuse, Nimetazepam is also known as Erimin-5 and excessive use can lead to harmful effects.
In its grounds of decision published on Tuesday (Sep 10), the disciplinary tribunal found that Dr Yeo had "brought disrepute to the medical profession" through his misconduct.
But the doctor, who is now a resident physician at the Emergency Medicine department at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), was deemed suitable for rehabilitation.
He had spent four months in a Drug Rehabilitation Centre (DRC) and was given a stern warning in lieu of prosecution for the drug taking and drug possession offences.
Dr Yeo was demoted by the tribunal and has to undergo supervision at work and attend treatment with an addictions specialist.
In considering its punishment, the tribunal said: “The respondent (Dr Yeo) is young, and from all accounts in the positive testimonials tendered in mitigation, has a promising medical career ahead of him.
"For the past year and a half, he has been compliant with the informal conditions and restrictions imposed on him by TTSH, with no reports of any incidents since then."
In mitigation, Dr Yeo’s lawyer said his client had committed the offences “in a moment of folly due to the pressures of work”.
CAUGHT WITH DRUGS ON DAY OFF
The tribunal heard that Dr Yeo had been committed to the DRC for treatment and rehabilitation after he pleaded guilty to the drug offences. The doctor said he had been off-duty the day before and on the day of his arrest.
His employment with TTSH had been terminated by MOH Holdings - the holding company of Singapore’s public healthcare clusters - on Aug 1, 2017 due to “gross misconduct”.
After finishing his four-month treatment at the DRC, he was re-employed as a resident physician by TTSH. He completed his probation there and on Sep 12 last year, had his employment renewed until Dec 28, 2021, the tribunal noted.
The Singapore Medical Council (SMC) submitted that the drug offences were “extremely serious”, and that Dr Yeo had been arrested for not just one, but multiple drug offences.
“As the conduct of the respondent fell short of the standard of care, integrity and conduct expected of medical practitioners, and violated the trust the public places in the medical profession, such professional lapses must be policed and deterred," SMC argued.
It said Dr Yeo should be demoted from a fully-registered doctor to one with conditions and restrictions under a supervisory framework, before he can apply to be re-registered.
The SMC also called for Dr Yeo to be put under supervision for at least two years at work and to undergo treatment with a specialist.
MAKING GOOD PROGRESS IN REHAB
Dr Yeo’s lawyer said his client had committed the offences in a moment of folly due to work pressures, pleaded guilty at the earliest occasion and fully cooperated with SMC.
He had complied with his treatment and rehabilitation requirements, making good progress in his rehabilitation regime, the tribunal heard.
“He had been honest with and made himself accountable to his superiors and colleagues at TTSH. This insight gained by the respondent should be a mitigating factor,” his lawyer said, according to court documents.
He said since Dr Yeo had been re-employed by TTSH, he had voluntarily submitted to supervision by his colleagues and there have been no untoward incidents for the last year and a half.
Dr Yeo had also completed CNB’s supervised urine test regime.
“So to place the respondent in a further regime of supervision would be demoralising for him, as it would fail to take into account what the respondent had already gone through, and his efforts for taking responsibility and being accountable to his colleagues and superiors,” Dr Yeo’s lawyer said, according to the grounds.
The disciplinary tribunal ruled that they did not have evidence to show he had taken drugs while on the job, and made no findings in that regard.
“PROMISING MEDICAL CAREER”
In its findings, the tribunal said Dr Yeo had “eroded the faith and confidence of the public in relation to the medical profession”.
“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," the tribunal added.
"The duty to act with the highest standards of integrity is also lacking."
It said that its orders have a “deterrent effect”, but should also be "balanced and not unduly onerous".
They found Dr Yeo has a "promising medical career" and that he "appears to have a good level of support from his colleagues and supervisors".
“The disciplinary tribunal is therefore of the view that the rehabilitation of (Dr Yeo), given the facts of this particular case, is appropriate and indeed, necessary," the panel wrote in its grounds.
In imposing the conditions and supervision on him, the tribunal said: “The sanction can be seen as a ‘demotion’ of the respondent’s status from a doctor with full registration and all the privileges it entails, to one with conditional registration where conditions and restrictions upon his practice are imposed.”
Dr Yeo has been ordered to undergo supervision at work for a period of 18 months. During that time, he is to attend drug rehabilitation and treatment sessions regularly with an SMC approved addictions specialist.
He was also ordered to pay the costs of the proceedings, including SMC’s.
If he meets the conditions, he may apply to be a fully-registered doctor again.