On 16 October 2018, Nurul Aizat Bin Zainudin ("Aizat"), formerly a director, CEO and dentist of Family Dental Centre ("FDC") was fined SGD 15,000 for attempting to bribe a dental assistant employed by T32 Dental, while he was under the employment of FDC. In exchange for referring patients from T32 Dental to FDC, Aizat offered the dental assistant SGD 50 for each referred patient.
Aizat was charged on 26 September 2018 for one count of corruptly offering the bribe to the dental assistant, an offence punishable under Section 6(b) of the Prevention of Corruption Act (Cap. 241). According to a Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau ("CPIB") press release, Aizat had, on 28 May 2017, messaged the dental assistant to offer the bribe. The dental assistant rejected the bribe and reported the matter subsequently to the CPIB.
The Singapore Dental Council ("SDC") will also look into Aizat's alleged acts of professional misconduct.
This incident comes hot on the heels of the Ministry of Health's recent decision to stop public hospitals from contracting with foreign agents to refer patients from abroad to some of the Singapore restructured hospitals in exchange for part of the patient's hospital fees (see our recent client alert here).
In Singapore, providing payments in exchange for patient-referrals is often frowned upon, regardless of whether the payments are contractually provided or corruptly offered. Healthcare professionals, including doctors and dentists, are obliged to prioritise the needs of the public and act in the best interests of their patients.
By offering payments in exchange for patient referrals, such a referral system may potentially create financial incentives for healthcare professionals and ancillary staff to prioritise their own interests over the best interests of their patients.
The CPIB and MOH decisions provide an important reminder to healthcare professionals and ancillary staff to abide by anti-corruption and compliance-related laws.
Professional codes of conduct may be relevant. By way of illustration, the current SDC Ethical Code and Guidelines (August 2006 edition) ("SDC ECG") provides that "a dentist must not attempt to profit at the expense of professional colleagues by canvassing or touting for patients" (Section 4.3.2 of the SDC ECG), and more generally, a dentist is obliged to "maintain the highest standards of moral integrity and honesty" (Section 3 of the SDC ECG).
Separately, Section 5.6 of the new SDC Ethical Code and Ethical Guidelines (2018 Edition), which will come into force on 1 January 2019, provides that "dental practitioners must not participate in "fee splitting" or "fee sharing" by offering gratuitous payments, gifts or other rewards for patients referred to them from any source."