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Independents' Day

Thousands of doctors from overseas face GMC qualifications probe after fraud case

Around 3,000 UK doctors face having their qualifications reviewed after it emerged a New Zealander practised in the UK for 23 years with fake medical qualifications.

Zholia Alemi falsely claimed to have a medical degree from Auckland University when she registered in the UK in 1995, when she had in fact dropped out of medical school in her first year. She was then allowed to go on and work as a psychiatrist for more than two decades.

The GMC said it would now be probing the qualifications of around 3,000 doctors who came into the UK under a law that allowed doctors from certain Commonwealth countries to practise on the basis of their home qualifications.

Until 2003, they did not have to sit and pass the Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board (PLAB) exam.

The GMC said it did not at this stage know how many GPs’ files would be reviewed as a result of the case.

The review of doctors’ qualifications is expected to take ‘several weeks’ and the GMC said doctors would not be contacted unless anything untoward was found.

A GMC spokesperson told Pulse: ‘Initial indications are that there are up to 3,000 doctors whose records we will be re-checking to verify their authenticity.

’It is important to stress this is an incredibly rare case and there is nothing to suggest that other doctors who took this route are anything but honest and hard-working, but it is important that we carry out checks in light of this.’

He added that most of the checks would be done by GMC staff ‘using established online portals’.

If that could not be done, the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) – the organisation which checks health care credentials worldwide – would verify the records .

The case came to light after Alemi was jailed for fraud in October after she faked a dementia patient’s will in an attempt to inherit her £1.3m estate. The GMC review was triggered when the News and Star newspaper in Cumbria revealed her qualifications were faked.

Dr Chandra Kanneganti, chair of the British International Doctors’ Association, said that the Alemi case shouldn’t be allowed to tarnish the good reputation of overseas doctors working in the UK.

He said: ’I would say to the public, don’t think about all international doctors like that, she is clearly an exceptional case.’

But he stressed it was still important to carry out the review, to ensure patient safety, and public confidence in international doctors and the GMC.

GMC chief executive Charlie Massey stressed that foreign doctors were now subject to much more ‘rigorous testing’ before being allowed to work in the UK.

He said: ‘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, 23 years on, our systems are robust and would identify any fraudulent attempt to join the medical register.’

The news comes as NHS England has just embarked on a major bid to attract GPs to the UK from Australia, under a paid-for relocation scheme and with a ‘streamlined’ process to certify their eligibility to practise.

Earlier this year, the GMC said numbers of international doctors applying to work in the UK are expected to reach over 5,000 in 2018, up from nearly 3,000 in 2017.

Readers' comments (17)

  • Cobblers

    So the GMC has been falling down on its BASIC job, checking a doctor's registration.

    Meantime it hounds supposedly errant doctors to court, and in some sad cases, to taking their own lives.

    And we believe Charley M that the systems are now more robust?

    Forgive me but that organisation has made one too many errors, in this case its basic remit. It failed. Patients suffered. GMC = Not fit for purpose. GMC should be struck off.

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  • Ha ha! Egg on face for GMC, CQC, all medical staffing depts that have employed her, all her appraisers etc.

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  • This case says more about the specialty of Psychiatriy than the GMC.

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  • Still no one does the honourable thing at the GMC shameless.

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  • Do you need a medical degree to be a psychiatrist? In my experience many of them don’t seem to understand physiology or pharmacology or the rules on giving drugs for conditions they are licensed for. I worked in rural Africa where mentally sick patients were treated by witch doctors and on balance the results seemed better there.

    But hey the GMC and revalidators have got egg on their face yet again. Not that that will spoil their lunches just yet. . Come on Martin Luther

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  • It’s easy to say “Ha so you don’t need to be a proper doctor to be a psychiatrist” but have a care there are cases of people working fraudulently pretending to be doctors in many medical specialities including general practice.
    Just because Psychiatry is easy to do badly doesn’t mean it’s easy or pointless to do it well.

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  • It appears that the steps taken to appoint GMC Chief executives in the '2010's are also inadequate.
    How much poorer does the GMC have to get?

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  • could the headline be a little different?
    It should be something which explains where the blame lies...

    GMC fails, Again!
    GMC to do work it claimed to have done 20 years ago
    GMC probity in question, again
    GMC brings profession into disrepute

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  • This is what you get, when you give the state the power/responsibility for things. If the state controls the funding, the state controls the regulation. You think the state is reformable? Good luck with that. Remember - it's always easy to be liberal with someone else's money. You want freedom/liberty from such things? Take healthcare provision away from the state, and return the responsibility to the public and free market. How to do that? You create a political climate, via public opinion to do so.

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  • Thank goodness for the all conqureing private sector otherwise we would never have enjoyed the economic crash in 2008.

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