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Fake NHS psychiatrist ‘medicated at least 160 patients’

GMC apologises for ‘inadequate’ checks after bogus doctor practised for 22 years

Zamira Rahim
Wednesday 24 July 2019 14:46 BST
Zholia Alemi
Zholia Alemi (Cumbria Police)

A woman who practised as an NHS psychiatrist for 22 years with no qualifications treated 164 people while working at one mental health trust.

Zholia Alemi joined the UK medical register in 1995, after claiming to have qualified as a doctor at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

In reality she had dropped out in her first year of medical school.

She went on to work in the NHS and prescribed medication to 164 patients while working at the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT), an FOI request by the BBC revealed.

“Zholia Alemi worked in a multidisciplinary team as a locum consultant psychiatrist for Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust in 2014-15,” an NSFT spokesperson said.

The NHS trust said the GMC and the agency had done the necessary checks before Alemi was hired.

The trust later terminated the contract with the psychiatrist due to safeguarding concerns.

“We have been assured by the GMC that their checks are more robust than they were in the 1990s,” the spokesperson added.

The GMC previously apologised for its “inadequate” checks. The authority insisted that Alemi joined the medical register in the UK under a section of the Medical Act which has not been used since 2003.

The section allowed graduates of medical schools in certain Commonwealth countries, including New Zealand, to obtain registration on the basis of their qualification in that country.

As a result they did not have to sit and pass the Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board exam (Plab), an assessment of skills which is usually required of doctors who qualified abroad.

“It is shocking that a fake doctor could prescribe potentially fatal medication to 164 patients,” said a spokesperson for A Campaign to Save Norfolk and Suffolk Mental Health Services.

“The approach to safety at NSFT seems to be entirely tick box driven and it took a local newspaper journalist to expose her as a fraud.”

The campaigners called for a full external audit of all doctors working at the trust.

Bohdan Solomka, NSFT’s medical director, wrote to all patients who had contact with Alemi and urged them to get in contact if they had concerns.

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NSFT said he received two replies and “was able to offer reassurances about the quality of care provided by the whole team".

Alemi’s deception came to light after she was found guilty of fraud and theft and jailed for five years in October 2018 at Carlisle Crown Court.

A jury concluded she had used her position in a dementia service to make herself a beneficiary of a vulnerable patient’s will.

After her sentencing a Cumbria Police spokesperson said it was “all the more abhorrent” that she had manipulated someone she had met in a position of trust.

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