By William Chin
You might think that a broken arm with 2 pins inserted would warrant a medical certificate (MC). Not so if you are treated by a certain Dr Tan — TWC2 has her full name. Monir Shafi suffered a bad fall on 28 July 2015, which required treatment for his arm and back. However, he was only given an MC on 12 October, 76 days later.
It wasn’t that he was required to go back to work with a broken arm; the employer was quite content to let him rest through those 76 days. But the absence of certified medical leave complicated the whole process of insurance claims and his entitlements. For example, medical leave wages (commonly referred to as ‘MC money’) that he would be entitled to, weren’t getting to him.
Treatment delayed is treatment denied
Working for a subcontractor under GreatEarth Construction Pte Ltd, Monir Shofi fell whilst carrying a bag of cement on 28 July. Due to what he described as faulty floor covering, he landed in a drain about 60 centimetres deep.
The fall injured his arm and back. He tells TWC2 that initially, he was denied treatment by the supervisor, but after pleading by his friend, he was taken to a clinic (“near Balestier,” he says), which is the company-appointed doctor and had an X-Ray done. It showed that further treatment was required. However, it was not until four days later, on 1 August 2015, was he taken to Mount Alvernia hospital for an operation on his left arm.
“Serve all with Love”, except when the patient is a transient worker?
At Mount Alvernia hospital, he had an operation where he had two pins inserted into his arm. His arm remains heavily bandaged even today (the day of the interview) though the pins have been removed when I meet him.
Monir tells me that from the period of the operation then until recently, he had been visiting the same Dr Tan every week or every two weeks. However, each time he asked for an MC from this “sister lady doctor”, he was refused. Ironically, the tagline for Mount Alvernia hospital is to Serve all with Love. Perhaps the “All” here in Orwellian style excludes transient workers.
As a result of the delay, his work injury “insurance claim” was not promptly initiated. Money problems began to pile up. He only received a half-month salary ($365) for the past two months when he normally earns $750 per month. One of the provisions of the Work Injury Compensation Act entitles a worker to two-thirds of his average monthly salary as “MC money”, for the duration of his medical leave. But this kicks in only if firstly, a claim is filed and secondly, if he gets the necessary MCs. Monir didn’t have the benefit of either.
MOM wants worker to escalate the matter to SMC
Getting frustrated, Monir Shafi complained to his employer, and looked around for a lawyer to help him. Eventually, a claim was filed, but it was two months after the accident.
Monir also complained to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) about the lack of an MC, which he needed to unlock his medical leave wages. “MOM [was] angry [with] my boss,” he tells me. “[Having had surgical] operation, why no give MC.”
With the best intention to help, the Case Officer in MOM, Damien Lim, advised Monir to complain to the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) about his doctor’s possible malpractice. From previous instances, we know that MOM frowns on doctors who take the cue from employers in denying MCs to workers with serious injuries. Monir was even given a small piece of paper with an address of Singapore Medical Council at College Road for him to escalate the issue to, complete with Bengali translation.
Monir brought this up to Dr Tan on the next visit on 12 October 2015. It was only then that he was finally given a 14-day MC until 26 October.
However, Monir does not want to bring up the issue to Singapore Medical Council. When I ask him why, he says, “I don’t want trouble”.
This is one of a many similar stories on our website. And since TWC2 only writes up a fraction of the cases we see, the fact that there are several such stories indicates how common this problem is. In fact, it is so common that MOM has a ready-made slip of paper directing workers to make complaints!
And yet, the issue persists. Anecdotally, the problem may lie at the Singapore Medical Council SMC. It took them years to act on complaints filed by the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME). Earlier this year, the SMC said they would bring three doctors before their Disciplinary Tribunal, see our post of April 2015. To date only one case has been heard and the Tribunal found in favour of the doctor. Our latest information is that SMC intends to appeal the case to the High Court.
The question that naturally arises is whether Disciplinary proceedings at professional organisations such as the SMC or the Law Society are sufficiently robust, or whether they are over-protective of their own.