A piece by Nadeem Badshah in today’s Times:
Background checks are being carried out on 3,000 foreign doctors working in the NHS after a fraudster was allowed to work as a consultant psychiatrist for 22 years.
Zholia Alemi was jailed last month [J4MB: for five years] after being found guilty at Carlisle crown court of defrauding a dementia patient in her care.
Alemi claimed that she had a degree from the University of Auckland in New Zealand when she arrived in Britain in 1992. However, it has emerged that she dropped out of her medical course after failing the first year.
Alemi, 56, concluded after one meeting in 2016 that Gillian Belham, now 87, did not require treatment and hatched a plan to defraud the widow of her £1.3 million estate. She took out a power of attorney to control Mrs Belham’s medical and financial affairs and drafted a fake will, the court was told.
It has emerged that the General Medical Council (GMC), the regulator, did not check the authenticity of her qualifications. Her only qualification was a degree in human biology, according to the News & Star newspaper in Carlisle. At the time doctors from some Commonwealth countries could be cleared to start work by presenting their qualifications without sitting any assessments.
Charlie Massey, the GMC’s chief executive, said that the doctors from Commonwealth countries who came to work in Britain before 2003 accounted for 1 per cent of the doctors on the medical register.
He told the newspaper: “These are serious issues and we are investigating them urgently. It is extremely concerning that a person used a fraudulent qualification to join the register and we are working 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.”
He said that the GMC’s processes were far stronger now with rigorous testing in place to ensure those joining the register were fit to work in Britain.
He added: “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 our systems are [now] robust and would identify any fraudulent attempt to join the medical register.”
The GMC could not say exactly where Alemi had worked since joining the NHS in 1995. However, she is understood to have had links to West Yorkshire, Lancashire and Scotland.
After her arrest on suspicion of stealing watches from Mrs Belham, she failed to tell the GMC about the police investigation.
The GMC said that patients who may have been affected by Alemi’s bogus practice would be supported.
Officials at the Medical Council of New Zealand, the GMC equivalent, confirmed that Alemi had never qualified as a doctor. A spokesman added: “The council has been advised by the University of Auckland’s faculty of medical and health sciences that Zholia Alemi does not hold a MBChB.”
The Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, where Alemi was working when she met Mrs Belham, said that it had launched a review.
The Department of Health said: “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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