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.