SMC seeks to strike off doctor who submitted research papers with bogus co-authors while a houseman

SINGAPORE – In an effort to boost his credibility in research papers submitted to medical journals, a trainee doctor claimed that his work was co-authored by two people, named Mark Pitts and Peter Lemark, who turned out to be fictitious characters.

Dr Chua Shunjie, 35, then a houseman, also falsely claimed that he was from the National Skin Centre in another academic paper and that he was with the Singapore General Hospital in application forms.

On Tuesday (Aug 18), in an appeal to the Court of Three Judges, the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) argued that Dr Chua should be struck off the register.

Apart from the bogus authorship and affiliation claims, Dr Chua had also breached medical confidentiality by disclosing a patient’s condition without consent.

SMC, represented by Mr Kevin Ho and Ms Roseanne Tan, argued that Dr Chua’s original punishment of 18 months’ suspension, meted out by a three-member disciplinary tribunal last year, was “manifestly inadequate”.

Mr Ho said there was “a pattern of misconduct” which showed Dr Chua was dishonest and had integrity issues.

Dr Chua’s actions can cause severe harm to the public’s confidence in doctors and Singapore’s standing as a medical research hub, he added.

His lawyers, Mr Julian Tay and Ms Theodora Kee, said the houseman’s medical career was halted even before it started but he has “paid his penance” and a striking-off would be a crushing sentence.

Mr Tay also questioned the legal basis for the disciplinary proceedings as Dr Chua’s provisional registration as a medical practitioner expired in December 2016  and he has not practised since then.

The court, comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang and Justice Belinda Ang, reserved judgment and will give its decision at a later date.

Dr Chua graduated from Duke-NUS Medical School in July 2015 and was granted provisional registration to undergo his housemanship training.

Between July and October 2015, while he was a houseman at the National University Hospital, he submitted two research application forms in which he falsely stated that he was affiliated with the SGH Dermatology Department.

In August 2015, he submitted a paper to the British Journal of Dermatology, stating that he was with the National Skin Centre.

Between August and September 2015, he submitted two papers with bogus co-authors to professional journals.

In April 2016, he was on his second posting at the Ng Teng Fong General Hospital when he was contacted by the employer of a patient who questioned him about a medical certificate he had issued.

Dr Chua relented to the employer’s demands and disclosed information about the patient to the employer without the patient’s consent.

In May 2016, the SMC received a complaint against Dr Chua.

The SMC brought six charges against him for professional misconduct – one for breaching patient confidentiality, two for the authorship claims, and three for the affiliation claims.

In a split decision, two members of the disciplinary tribunal said an 18-month suspension would suffice, while the minority opinion was that a striking-off was warranted.

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