Hospital doctor fined $7k for forging his own MCs due to depression from break-up

Medical doctor or physician in white gown uniform with stethoscope in hospital or clinic
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SINGAPORE — A former Changi General Hospital (CGH) doctor who forged medical certificates to be absent from work on four occasions in 2015 had been suffering from the throes of a failed relationship at the time, the court heard on Tuesday (7 May).

Joel Arun Sursas, 28, was fined $7,000 on one count of forging an MC, with three other counts being considered for his sentencing.

Sursas was a medical officer employed by MOH Holdings. While he worked at CGH’s Diagnostic Radiology Department by day, he moonlighted at Etern Medical Clinic as a locum doctor by night.

However, he held only a temporary registration with the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) and was not permitted to work as a locum doctor, as only doctors who are fully registered with the SMC are allowed to do so.

For his illegal work at the clinic, Sursas was suspended for three years and fined $15,000 last October by a disciplinary tribunal convened by the SMC. The tribunal also censured Sursas, and ordered him to give a written undertaking to the SMC not to engage in a similar conduct. He was also told to pay the costs of the tribunal proceedings.

Problems arose when relationship ended

On Tuesday, Sursas’ lawyer Lee Teck Leng told the court that his problems arose after his girlfriend ended their two-year, long-distance relationship in August 2015.

“He was convinced that she was the girl he would marry and start a family with,” Lee said. “His blissful and happy life came to a crashing halt in late August 2015 when she told him that she was actually seeing someone else. She then initiated the break-up which he could not accept.”

The break-up threw Sursas into a depressed state, and he began to suffer from insomnia.

On the days that he had forged the MCs, he had either over-slept and woke up only in the afternoon, by which it was too late to report for work, or he had woken up in the morning but could not bring himself to go to work. On these occasions, he would lie on his bed and mope all day, the lawyer said.

He also could not bring himself to do his work at CGH, which involved him reading X-rays in a dark room devoid of human company.

However Sursa’s insomnia had not affected his locum work at night. He had also looked forward to the work due to his interaction with patients.

“(Sursa’s) primary motivation for working as a locum was to earn some side income so that he could make a trip to Canada in end 2015 to try and salvage his relationship with (his girlfriend),” said Lee.

The lawyer added that had Sursa’s condition would have merited an MC, had he visited other doctors on the four occasions he was absent from work.

Actions fell short of standards

In sentencing Sursa, District Judge Mathew Joseph noted that his actions had fallen short of his standards as a doctor.

“This is a sad case. You of all people should have known better,” the judge told Sursa.

The judge noted that the doctor was still young and hoped he “did not see this as the end”, but was able to “pick up the pieces” of his life.

In a statement issued through his lawyer, Sursas said,“I deeply regret my actions. The last four years have not diminished my desire to serve society as a doctor. I hope society allows me to redeem myself.”

Facts of the case

Between 1 September 2015 and 4 January 2016, Sursas was posted to the Diagnostic Radiology Department of Changi General Hospital.

However he also moonlighted as a locum doctor at Etern Medical Clinic on 47 occasions between 10 July 2015 and 11 December 2015. He earned $13,000 from the work.

On 20 November 2015, Sursas reported sick to CGH but worked at the clinic from 6.30pm to 9.30pm. He was paid $95 an hour.

Five days later, Sursas forged an MC with the Etern letterhead, stating that he was unfit for work for one day on 20 November 2015.

He signed above the word “Locum” on the MC without stating his name, intending to create the false impression that the forged MC had been signed by another locum from Etern. Sursas then submitted the forged MC to his employer.

The offence was uncovered when CGH made enquiries to Etern.

The prosecution asked for a fine of not less than $8,000 while Lee sought a fine of not more than $3,000. The maximum punishment for forgery is up to four years’ jail along with a fine.

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