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3,000 doctors face licence checks

GMC launches investigation following fake psychiatrist case

Mark Gould

Monday, 19 November 2018

Some 3,000 foreign doctors in the UK are being urgently checked following revelations that a woman practised psychiatry for 22 years without any qualifications.

New Zealander Zholia Alemi falsely claimed to have a medical degree from Auckland University when she registered in the UK in 1995. But she had actually dropped out of medical school in her first year.

The General Medical Council (GMC) said Alemi was allowed to join the UK medical register under a section of the Medical Act which has not been in force since 2003. The act meant medical school graduates from Commonwealth countries like New Zealand were allowed to join the register on the basis of the qualification they obtained at home.

They did not have to pass the standard Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board exam that other foreign doctors who want to work in the UK must sit. Some 3,000 doctors who registered for a licence under the same scheme are now being checked by the GMC.

The GMC has apologised for its "inadequate" checks in the 1990s and said it was sorry for "any risk arising to patients as a result" and that it was confident its current processes are "far stronger". And it has created a web page with advice for anyone who is concerned that they were treated by Alemi. It urges anyone who was treated by her to contact the GP surgery, hospital or clinic where they received treatment.

Alemi was jailed for fraud in October after she faked a dementia patient's will in an attempt to inherit her £1.3m estate. Now, following an investigation by the News and Star newspaper in Cumbria, a review has been triggered. The licences of potentially thousands of doctors are being looked at.

When registering in the UK in 1995, Alemi claimed to have a medical degree from the University of Auckland - which she did not have. But her false medical qualification was only discovered after she was convicted of fraud and theft in October 2018 after taking advantage of a vulnerable patient.

Alemi, who was working as a consultant psychiatrist for a dementia service in west Cumbria at the time, redrafted the patient's will and fraudulently applied for power of attorney.

She denied the charges but was found guilty at Carlisle Crown Court and jailed for five years. Alemi lost her job after being arrested in 2016 and was suspended by the medical tribunal service in June 2017.

The GMC's chief executive Charlie Massey said in a statement: “We recently became aware that Zholia Alemi used a fraudulent qualification to join the medical register in 1995 and worked as a doctor until June 2017. These are serious issues and we are investigating them urgently to understand how this happened. We have brought this to the attention of police and other agencies, including NHS England, so that they may also take any necessary action to support patients and answer any questions they may have.

“Our processes are far stronger now, with rigorous testing in place to ensure those joining the register are fit to work in the UK. It is clear that in this case the steps taken in the 1990s were inadequate and we apologise for any risk arising to patients as a result. We are confident that, 23 years on, our systems are robust and would identify any fraudulent attempt to join the medical register.

“Patients deserve good care from appropriately qualified professionals and place a great deal of trust in doctors. To exploit that trust and the respected name of the profession is abhorrent.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: "As the organisation responsible for regulating doctors, we expect the GMC to investigate how this criminal was able to register as a doctor and put measures in place to make sure it can't happen again."

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