By Rob Picheta, CNN
Up to 3,000 foreign doctors in the UK are having their backgrounds checked after it emerged that a fake psychiatrist with no qualifications was allowed to practice for over 22 years.
Zholia Alemi was jailed for fraud in October after she changed an elderly client’s will to make herself a beneficiary. Following that, it was discovered that when she first registered in Britain in 1995 Alemi had conned medical bodies into believing she had a qualification from the University of Auckland in New Zealand.
The General Medical Council (GMC) has now launched an investigation into thousands of UK-based doctors who registered for UK licenses in the same way as Alemi, Britain’s Press Association (PA) reported.
The body, which determines whether doctors are qualified to practice in the UK, admitted its checks were “inadequate” in the 1990s and apologized “for any risk arising to patients as a result.”
“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,” the GMC’s chief executive, Charlie Massey, said in a statement.
“Our processes are far stronger now, with rigorous testing in place to ensure those joining the register are fit to work in the UK,” he added.
In 1995, Alemi took advantage of a section of the Medical Act, subsequently removed in 2003, that allowed medical graduates from some Commonwealth countries to skip exams and rigorous document checks.
Alemi’s decades of deception were uncovered after an investigation by UK regional newspaper the News and Star, following her initial sentencing for fraud and theft in October.
Employed as a consultant psychiatrist in Cumbria, north-west England, Alemi had avoided scrutiny until being investigated by authorities for taking advantage of an elderly patient, altering her will without her approval to make herself a major beneficiary.
She was also found to have stolen a number of the woman’s watches and was sentenced to five years in prison.
Alemi was known to the elderly patient as Julia, according to Cumbria Police, who quoted the victim saying: “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.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Social Care said in a statement: “As the organization 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.”