Medics back doctor's bid to sue for defamation

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 May, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 May, 2005, 12:00am

Physician accused of swearing wants retraction or he'll take patient's relative to court

Frontline medics say they will raise funds so a public doctor can sue a patient's relative for defamation after the doctor was accused of using foul language at a clinic.

The threatened legal action, believed to be the first of its kind in Hong Kong, has won overwhelming support from both private and public doctors who say they are frustrated by unreasonable demands and vexatious complaints by patients.

The Hospital Authority public complaints committee recently completed its investigation of the case, in which the doctor refused the patient's demands for six bottles of laxatives. The report is being circulated among hospital chiefs for comment.

The doctor, Michael Ho Hung-kwan of the Central Kowloon Health Centre, said he expected the committee to return a finding that it was incapable of deciding on the case.

'Such a finding cannot clear my name. Saying a doctor used foul language is a very serious accusation. It affects a doctor's professional image. If I go for private practice in the future, who is willing to come to see me?' Dr Ho said.

'The burden of proof should be on the complainant. If a complainant fails to provide any sound evidence that I have used bad language, why didn't the committee reject the case?'

Dr Ho said he would send a letter to the complainant through his lawyer demanding a retraction of her accusation. 'If she refuses, I will sue for defamation.'

Last November an elderly woman demanded six bottles of laxatives at the Kowloon clinic but a doctor agreed to prescribe only one.

Dr Ho, in charge of the clinic at the time, explained to the woman and her relative that as the patient's constipation was not serious, one bottle of the laxative would be enough for one to two months.

'Doctors should not entertain an unreasonable request and waste public resources just to avoid being a target of complaint. I stand by my decision,' he said.

The patient's relative later filed a complaint to the Hospital Authority.

Public Doctors Association president Wong Tak-cheung said the group was ready to mobilise a fund-raising campaign to support his legal action.

'I have received many calls from frontline doctors and nurses offering donations. Some private practitioners also showed their support,' Dr Wong said. 'They say they have enough frustration and they are glad that finally someone is willing to stand up.'

Dr Ho said the Hospital Authority's complaints system had been seriously abused. In a separate incident, a patient suffering from minor flu complained to Dr Ho after a request for five days' sick leave was turned down.

An authority spokesman said the case was under investigation.