Major review launched into patient records of fake psychiatrist

Health boards across Scotland are reviewing the clinical records of patients who received treatment from a bogus psychiatrist, who fooled NHS bosses across the UK for 22 years despite having no qualifications.

Thursday, 15th August 2019, 5:37 pm
Updated Thursday, 15th August 2019, 6:37 pm
Zholia Alemi was jailed last October after posing as a psychiatrist for 22 years.

New Zealander Zholia Alemi, posed as a consultant psychiatrist for more than two decades, before being jailed last October after she defrauded a patient in Cumbria, faking a will in an attempt to inherit a £1.3m estate.

Scotland's chief medical officer, Dr Catherine Calderwood, warned earlier this year that Alemi may have treated hundreds of Scottish patients, even referring some for needless electro-convulsive therapy as well as prescribing medication that may not have been required.

She also said other patients may have been detained under the Mental Health Act or "groomed" to gain access to their finances.

Today the Scottish Government said the clinical records of each Scottish health board are being reviewed in detail by consultant psychiatrists to identify decisions made by Alemi and to offer appropriate advice and support to affected patients.

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NHS boards will be sending letters with further information to affected patients over the coming months.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “I know that this will be extremely upsetting for people and their families.

“The General Medical Council now has processes in place to ensure that this won’t happen again. I also wish to reassure people that the remainder of their care and treatment was delivered by fully qualified doctors.

“If anyone affected has any further questions, they can get in touch with their local board.”

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Fake Scottish psychiatrist may have prescribed electro-convulsive therapy

After her conviction, it emerged that Alemi had dropped out of medical school in her first year in New Zealand but was employed by the NHS after moving to the UK in 1995.

She worked at a number of locations across the UK, including six Scottish health boards. Dr Calderwood has already written to these boards, asking them to identify patients who were significantly affected by Alemi's activity through "prescription of drugs, electro-convulsive therapy, treatment or diagnosis, or in the use of the Mental Health Act".

NHS Ayrshire and Arran is one health board which has confirmed that Alemi treated 395 adults while working as a locum for 18 months from 2007. During this time 24 of these patients were detained under the Mental Health Act.

NHS Ayrshire and Arran medical director Dr Alison Graham said the health board would be contacting all those affected. She added: "We would like to apologise for any distress this situation may have caused. If patients were treated by this individual and have concerns, we would advise them to contact our mental health services team."

NHS Tayside also employed Alemi as a locum psychiatrist for a "short period" in 2009 while NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said she worked in the former NHS Argyll & Clyde area between May 2005 and July 2006.

It is understood that Alemi also worked in the NHS Borders, NHS Highland and NHS Grampian areas.

The General Medical Council (GMC) has said Alemi was allowed to join the UK's medical register under a section of the Medical Act which has not been in force since 2003.

This allowed medical graduates from certain Commonwealth countries to register on the basis of qualifications obtained at home, without sitting tests that most foreign doctors have to pass before working in the UK.

The GMC said the checks were now more "rigorous" and it completed a review of 3,117 doctors in June, who were allowed to work under the same rules as Alemi, finding they all had genuine degrees.