Response to “callous” doctor’s conviction

26 April 2019

The High Court’s affirmation of Dr Kevin Yip’s conviction and lengthening of his sentence to eight months (Court dismisses appeal of doctor who did not give foreign worker sick leave after surgery, The Straits Times), may appear to vindicate justice. But the delay of nearly eight years in reaching this sentence of suspension undermines its bite.

Inadequate medical leave (MCs) for work accidents has ruinous effects.  Without MCs, workers cannot claim medical leave wages; a significant loss, since work accidents often inflicts serious injuries which merit several months’ leave.  Worst of all, short MCs deprive workers of the right to file a Work Injury Compensation claim.

Workers need at least three days’ medical leave to qualify to report an accident themselves.  Furthermore, reports from workers are subject to investigation to determine the validity of the claim.  Many injured workers’ claims are rejected when their employer denies that their injuries arose from work accidents and the workers are unable to prove otherwise. 

Employers send injured workers to doctors like Yip to cover up accidents and prevent workers from lodging claims. Under the pressure of project deadlines, safety is skimped and the inherently hazardous work environments of the construction and marine sectors, for example, become highly accident-prone—as HOME’s Case Manager Luke Tan testifies from personal experience in the shipyards. Many employers engage compliant medical practitioners such as Dr Yip to stifle reporting.  In this case, the Court rejected Dr Yip’s claim that his decisions had not been influenced by the patient’s employer. The Court described his conduct as “complete” and “callous disregard of [his] patient’s welfare,” and concluded that he had abused his privileges as a doctor.

Since HOME filed this complaint on 24 October 2011, we continued to receive complaints against Dr Yip or his colleagues who are practising in his clinic. The Court’s finding that Dr Yip fabricated an excuse—that the worker had agreed to “light duty” instead of MC—speaks volumes.

Many other migrant workers encounter—at the hands of the very people who should be prioritising their well-being over all other considerations—the same callous disregard for their welfare; the same abuse of power. They would have faced even more obstacles, or even an insurmountable dead end, in obtaining rightful compensation for their injuries. The “inordinate delay” in the case, noted by the Court, allowed this to continue for years.  HOME hopes this long-delayed result will finally be a turning point.