Investigation into Kiwi woman's fake psychiatry qualifications leads to 3000 doctors being inspected in UK

The conviction of a Kiwi woman in the United Kingdom who practised psychiatry for 22 years without any qualifications has led to thousands of doctors having their licences inspected.

New Zealander Zholia Alemi registered as a psychiatrist in the UK in 1995, claiming to have a medical degree from the University of Auckland.

It was later found that she actually dropped out in her first year.

But despite practising for 22 years, Ms Alemi's fake claims went unpunished until she was convicted of fraud and theft in October, after she took advantage of a vulnerable patient, the BBC reports.

She was working for a dementia service in west Cumbria when Ms Alemi redrafted a patient's will and then applied for power of attorney of the patient's nearly NZ$2.5 million estate.

After being arrested and losing her job in 2016, her actions were labelled as "wicked" by the judge, with the victim of Ms Alemi's fraud saying the woman just "helped herself" to her money.

While she denied the charges, she was found guilty and jailed for five years.

It was following her conviction that her fake qualifications were discovered, which has triggered nearly 3000 foreign doctors having their credentials checked.

The UK's General Medical Council (GMC), which decides whether a doctor is qualified to practise, apologised and believes its current checks are far stronger than in the 1990s.

The GMC said Ms Alemi was allowed to register under a section of the UK's Medical Act which has not been enforced since 2003. It allowed graduates from some Commonwealth countries, like New Zealand, to join the register on the basis of their qualification obtained at home. They did not have to pass a test that other foreign doctors must.

Andrew Connolly, the chairperson of the Medical Council of New Zealand, said he was "very confident that our systems are robust" and it was extremely unlikely a case similar to Ms Alemi's had occured here.

However, since hearing about the case in the UK, Mr Connolly had ordered a full report into what processes the council had in the 1990s to compare with what the GMC was doing at the time. 

From initial discussions he had had with staff, Mr Connolly felt reassured New Zealand's processes for someone to become registered were more stringent than what were implemented by the GMC.


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