Fake Psychiatrist Case in UK Prompts Review of 3,000 Foreign Doctors

November 19, 2018 Updated: September 30, 2019

LONDON—Thousands of foreign doctors in the UK are having their backgrounds checked after it was found that a woman was able to practice psychiatry for 22 years without any qualifications.

The woman, Zholia Alemi, was jailed for fraud in October after faking a dementia patient’s will to try to become the benefactor of her $1.6 million estate. Despite not having any qualifications, Alemi managed to register as a psychiatrist in the UK after traveling from New Zealand in 1995 and exploiting a loophole in the system.

The General Medical Council (GMC), which oversees doctors in the UK, said its checks are more “rigorous” now than in the 1990s. The council is now investigating the records of as many as 3,000 doctors who also registered under the same system as Alemi, according to the BBC.

The GMC said it had informed the police and other organizations responsible for health care, including Britain’s National Health Service.

Alemi, 55, who originally registered in 1995, falsely claimed to have a medical degree from the University of Auckland; she actually dropped out of the university in her first year. She was able to become a doctor in the UK by exploiting a law that enabled people from Commonwealth countries, such as New Zealand, to register without having to sit for the usual British medical exams.

Alemi eventually became a consultant psychiatrist working for a dementia service in Cumbria, northwest UK.

‘Our Systems Are Robust’

The law has since been changed, and the GMC said that any such attempts now to join the medical register without qualifications would be noticed.

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

“We are confident that, 23 years on, our systems are robust and would identify any fraudulent attempt to join the medical register.”

Alemi was suspended from the medical register on June 23, 2017, after it was discovered she had drafted a will for a dementia patient in her care so that she and her two “godchildren” would be the only beneficiaries.

Cumbria Police confirmed with the victim that she hadn’t given Alemi permission to change her will and didn’t know the “godchildren.” The victim told police she thought Alemi “just helped herself.”

Alemi claimed that she was suffering from trauma-induced amnesia and couldn’t remember what she had told police.

She was found guilty of theft and fraud and sentenced to five years in prison on Oct. 18, although she denied the charges. It was only after her conviction that her false medical qualification was discovered.

Cumbria Police Detective Constable Louise Carter said in a statement: “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.

“Instead she sought to befriend the elderly woman and quickly made plans to commit theft and fraud.”

Follow John on Twitter: @jdsmithies