Susan Lim, the Singapore doctor who billed a member of Brunei’s royal family S$24.8 million ($19 million) for seven months of treatment, lost her final legal bid to block a medical council inquiry into the charges.
“The issue of whether or not there was any overcharging” and whether this amounts to professional misconduct should be resolved by the medical council’s disciplinary committee, Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong said in a 44-page ruling yesterday.
Singapore’s health ministry began a probe in 2007 to determine whether Lim’s bills showed a pattern of overcharging, improper billing and whether some fees were inappropriate. A panel appointed by the Singapore Medical Council to hold the inquiry stepped down after Lim complained the members had prejudged her case.
Lim, 56, failed to block the second probe when the high court ruled on May 26 that the disciplinary hearing could proceed and appealed the decision. The Court of Appeal ruling means that the probe will go ahead. A second panel is scheduled to pursue the investigation in the first half of next year, the medical council said in a statement.
“We are pleased with the decision which has validated the manner in which SMC had conducted itself,” the council, represented by lawyers Alvin Yeo and Melanie Ho, said.
Lim “is disappointed with the Court of Appeal’s decision but respects and accepts it,” she said in a statement.
The doctor, Asia’s first liver-transplant surgeon, sought as much as S$200,000 a day over seven months in 2007 to treat Pangiran Anak Hajah Damit, Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah’s sister-in-law, for cancer. Bolkiah, Brunei’s ruler, is the second-richest royal in the world, according to Forbes.
Brunei’s health ministry sought a discount on the S$24.8 million bill through its counterpart in Singapore, claiming in a letter that the “extremely high” charges weren’t justified.
The Singapore Health Ministry said in a letter of complaint that “overcharging on such a magnitude could also bring disrepute to the medical profession” in the city.
The medical bill included third-party disbursements, and Lim said she had voluntarily reduced it to S$12.1 million, including S$3.3 million for a team of doctors and nurses, according to court papers.
The case is Dr. Susan Lim Mey Lee v The Singapore Medical Council CA 80/2010 in the Singapore Court of Appeal.