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University of Hong Kong’s former dean of medicine is jailed

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b3668 (Published 08 September 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b3668
  1. Jane Parry
  1. 1Hong Kong

    Lam Shiu-kum, the former dean of the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine at the University of Hong Kong, has been sentenced to 25 months in jail after pleading guilty to misconduct in public office.

    The misconduct involved inducing 12 patients who were treated at Queen Mary Hospital, the university’s teaching facility, to pay what appeared to be medical bills issued by the university and the hospital but were payable to Gastrointestinal Research, a company wholly owned by Professor Lam.

    In addition to these payments—which totalled $HK130 000 (£10 000; €12 000; $17 000)—three patients made total donations of $HK3.8m to the same company. None of the patients were told that it was Dr Lam’s company, the court heard. In addition to the charge under which Dr Lam was convicted, the court has kept on file 30 counts of fraud and three of theft.

    In his defence Dr Lam said that the money had been used to entertain guests, including potential donors to the medical faculty, and was therefore used for the benefit of the university. However, chief district court judge Li Hon-leung expressed scepticism about Dr Lam’s reasons, especially as he had not provided any further explanation of how the money was used.

    Starting with a sentence of five years, the judge deducted 20 months because Dr Lam pleaded guilty, nine months in consideration of the defendant’s good character, and a further six months because he had made full restitution to the university and the hospital authority, which were entitled to 75% and 25% of the fees, respectively, under a longstanding agreement between the two institutions.

    At the time of Dr Lam’s resignation all the fees payable to the university went to the relevant department and not to the doctor concerned. The university has since changed its payment system so that the doctor now receives up to 50% of earnings from private patients. This is one of 16 reforms that the university implemented to close loopholes that enabled Dr Lam to siphon off money.

    A spokeswoman said that the faculty of medicine “has already strictly implemented the relevant measures to protect patient rights and to enable private patient services, which are of great benefit to the public, to be delivered under an improved system.”

    Local representatives of the medical profession were also unimpressed with Dr Lam’s justification for his actions. “It’s not convincing: no reasonable person would be convinced by this. Justice has been served,” said Tse Hung-hing, chairman of the Hong Kong Medical Association.”

    Leung Ka-Lau, the Legislative Council member representing the medical profession, said, “He has damaged the university’s reputation. He should take some remedial action and accept his tough punishment.”

    Dr Lam, 66, brought a 39 year association with the university, his alma mater, to an abrupt end in March 2007 when the investigation into billing irregularities began. He is a distinguished gastroenterologist who conducted pioneering research into chemoprevention of stomach cancer through the eradication of Helicobacter pylori. His team also conducted the first double blind, controlled study into curing peptic ulcers by H pylori eradication.

    Notes

    Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b3668

    Footnotes

    • Competing interests: JP is currently a part time student in the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine’s master of public health programme.