An incident that has been simmering in the background for some time has finally gained prime time in the local newspapers.
Four years ago, local surgeon Susan Lim treated a woman linked to the Bruneian royal household for a period of 7 months and issued a bill of $24.8 million. The Bruneians sought a discount (it does not appear that they had pressed charges from the local press reports) and our MOH lodged a complaint with the Singapore Medical Council. Things have deteriorated to the point where the surgeon has dragged SMC to court, and it appears that she has assembled quite a powerful team of lawyers to press her suit.
Whatever the result, the local medical profession will not come out smelling like roses. On the one hand, there is no escaping the perception that the SMC (especially its disciplinary committee) will appear incompetent. Even the judge had suggested as much. It's very well to slap warnings and penalties on small-time GP's overprescribing sedatives; it's another matter to take on someone with the resources and capability to hit back hard. On the other hand, although we understand that the Bruneian royal family is fabulously rich, and that Dr Susan Lim is not the sole recipient of the 24.8 million dollars (some of it will go towards paying off expenses, as well as other specialists who were undoubtedly called in to assist), it is hard not to believe that she was greedy. Charging as much as the market will bear is an accepted practice in business, but there are limits beyond which virtually all views of such transactions become negative, particularly in healthcare.
And the question that inevitably arises - does she really need that much money? Dr Susan Lim was the first person in Singapore to successfully perform a liver transplant, she is featured on the Monash University website as one of its prominent alumni, and has a wax replica of her hands in Madam Tussaud's. She also has more awards than most and has doubtlessly inspired whole generations of doctors and surgeons. One is left pondering the question: why did it go so wrong?