In a previous post I wrote about the case of two fake Australian psychiatrists. Now it emerges that a woman who falsely claimed to have a medical qualification from New Zealand practised as a psychiatrist for 22 years in the United Kingdom. It was one of the main stories on the BBC front page (“Zholia Alemi: Foreign doctor checks after fake psychiatrist case”) today and also appeared in many newspapers.
Alemi, who was convicted of fraud and sentenced to five years in jail last month (October 2018) for forging a patient’s will, has been revealed as a fake psychiatrist. She had worked for 22 years as an NHS psychiatrist without having any medical qualifications – having discontinued a medical course in New Zealand after one year. According to the BBC article:
“The GMC [General Medical Council] said Alemi was allowed to join the UK’s medical register under a section of the Medical Act which has not been in force since 2003.
The act meant medical school graduates from certain 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 sit and pass the standard two-part medical test that foreign doctors normally have to pass before they can work in the UK – the Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board exam (PLAB).”
The GMC’s explanation however leaves a number of questions unanswered. Apparently Alemi produced a fake certificate from a New Zealand university and a fake reference from a hospital in Pakistan when she registered as a doctor in the United Kingdom. Why weren’t the forgeries spotted?
Alemi had an apparently successful career reaching the position of consultant. Did no-one – colleagues, patients, relatives – notice anything amiss in her practice over the years? Was she as competent at her job as qualified psychiatrists? If so, it raises questions about the necessity of a medical education for psychiatrists.
Before her arrest for fraud, Alemi had had two run-ins with the GMC: once for not reporting a conviction for careless driving and once for having sectioned a patient when she was not certified to do so. Had no-one thought to check her credentials at that stage? Presumably not, as such things are probably considered fairly minor and routine. But it is more surprising that, during the investigation and trial for forging a will, no-one seems to have looked into her background.
How was it that it was left to a local newspaper (Phil Coleman at the Cumbrian News and Star as the BBC article makes clear) to do the investigation?
The BBC article ends by passing on the GMC’s advice to people who have been treated by Alemi
“It urges anyone who was treated by her to contact the GP surgery, hospital or clinic where they received treatment.”
Not even a dedicated helpline.
PS. Alemi was a member of the medical panel of the Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland (“We provide a responsive and accessible, independent and impartial service to help make decisions on the compulsory care and treatment of people with mental disorders in Scotland”), where presumably no-one checked to see whether she was a qualified psychiatrist. In the Summer 2012 Members’ Newsletter Alemi wrote about spending her tribunal payments on a trip to Turkey, where she prescribed anti-depressants to people, including earthquake survivors, who were suffering from pain. She also wrote that in the past she had worked for the UN.