Checks on Some Foreign Doctors After Fake Psychiatrist Case

Peter Russell

November 19, 2018

Checks will be carried out on thousands of foreign doctors working in the UK after a fake psychiatrist was allowed to practice for 22 years using fraudulent qualifications.

   

Zholia Alemi

Zholia Alemi, 55, of High Harrington, Cumbria, was sentenced to 5 years in prison last month for fraud after she changed a patient's will to make herself, and others known to her, the beneficiaries.

Alemi, who was originally from New Zealand, was able to join the medical register in 1995 based on false claims that she held a medical degree from the University of Auckland. She continued to practice until her suspension from the register on June 23rd 2017.

Patient Deception

The deception only came to light when she was convicted of fraud and theft at Carlisle Crown Court.

The court heard how Alemi, who was working as a consultant psychiatrist for the memory and later life service at Workington Community Hospital, redrafted the will of an 84-year-old patient living in the Cockermouth area and fraudulently applied for lasting power of attorney.

The police intervened after carers reported concerns early in 2016, and later that year disclosed that Alemi – known to the victim as Julia – had been drafting a will.

The patient told officers: "Julia has drafted a will. Julia has put herself down for everything as I did not tell her I had a family… but I don’t want her having it all."

Following her arrest, officers searched Alemi's home and seized a number of items including two display cases containing a number of watches, along with a will and bank cards belonging to the patient.

Alemi's contract of employment with Cumbria NHS Trust was terminated after her arrest.

Following her conviction, Detective Constable Louise Carter said: "Alemi saw someone who was vulnerable and sought to take advantage of her to make a financial gain.

"Her actions are all the more abhorrent as she met the victim in her capacity as a medical professional and should have been helping her."
 

GMC Apology

The General Medical Council (GMC) has apologised for what happened, and said that more rigorous testing is now in place to ensure those joining the register are fit to work in the UK.

It confirmed to Medscape News UK that checks on the qualifications of up to 3000 foreign doctors would be carried out.

It explained that Alemi joined the register under a section of the Medical Act which has not been in force since 2003. This allowed graduates of medical schools in certain Commonwealth countries, including New Zealand, to obtain registration on the basis of their qualification, without having to sit and pass the standard two part assessment of their medical knowledge and skills – the Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board exam (PLAB). 
 
As part of her application, Zholia Alemi presented what appeared to be a primary medical qualification from the University of Auckland, a letter from the university confirming her graduation and a reference letter from her most recent employers in Pakistan. In the 1990s, these documents were not subject to the rigorous checks that are now in place, the statement said. 
 

'Systems Are Robust'

"Our processes are far stronger now, with rigorous testing in place to ensure those joining the register are fit to work in the UK," said Charlie Massey, chief executive of the GMC. "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."

The GMC said it had brought the implications of the case to the attention of the police and NHS England so they could take any necessary action and support patients.

"Patients deserve good care from appropriately qualified professionals and place a great deal of trust in doctors," said Mr Massey. "To exploit that trust and the respected name of the profession is abhorrent."

Patients who were treated by Alemi should speak to the GP surgery, hospital or clinic where they were treated, the GMC said.

NHS England said the issue was a matter for the GMC.

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