By Dr Minh Alexander, NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist, 1 June 2019
Summary: The Royal College of Psychiatrists has so far refused to confirm if it awarded Zholia Alemi a qualification, the MRCPsych, which would have allowed her to masquerade across the UK as a consultant psychiatrist. Equally, the Mental Health Tribunal Scotland had answered a previous FOI request by a third party somewhat evasively, by failing to say if she was a medical member of the Tribunal. The Tribunal has now confirmed that Alemi was a medical member. It has also advised that Zholia Alemi would have needed to satisfy requirements of either membership (MRCPsych) or fellowship (FRCPsych) of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. However, it stopped short of answering a question about whether she had been verified to be MRCPsych qualified. The Tribunal pointed out that Scottish Ministers are responsible for this.
Zholia Alemi’s case has been widely reported in the media. She tricked the General Medical Council (GMC) into believing that she was a qualified doctor when she came to the UK in the 1995. Despite coming before the GMC over several Fitness To Practice issues of dishonesty, the regulator still failed to thoroughly verify her primary qualification. Had it done so, it would have found it to be fake.
The task fell to a resourceful local journalist, Phil Coleman, working for the Cumbrian News and Star, who revealed in November 2018 that she was a bogus doctor:
Clearly the implications of this were enormous, as she had practised as a consultant psychiatrist for years. Many agencies had egg on their faces. The potential legal liability due to negligence cases is huge.
The usual closing of ranks took place.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists, one of the possibly most heavily implicated bodies, clammed up, and refused to officially confirm whether it had awarded her membership.
Unofficially, information leaked out indicating that Alemi had been awarded the MRCPsych.
Gaining Membership is not a question of just sitting an exam, but of passing through a long training process, and being observed in everyday clinical work by trainers.
It is a serious matter if a criminally abusive impostor was not spotted.
I exchanged the following correspondence with the Mental Health Tribunal Scotland this week, which responded in record time today, on a Saturday:
“Subject: RE: FOI request for Mental Health Tribunal Scotland
Date: 31 May 2019 at 10:48:40 BST
To: Minh Alexander <REDACTED>
Cc: MHTS Presidents Office <REDACTED>
Dear Dr Alexander
Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA)
Thank you for your request for information received on 30 May 2019. Regarding your request:
Zholia Alemi was appointed as a medical member of MHTS (the Tribunal). The recruitment and appointment of judicial officers is undertaken by Scottish Ministers. In making an application to become a medical member, Zholia Alemi would have been required to show that she complied with the requirements for appointment in force at the time, as set out in Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland (Appointment of Medical Members) Regulations 2004. Please note that these regulations were applicable at the time of Ms Alemi’s appointment, but have since been amended. MHTS did not carry out recruitment and I am unable to advise which criteria she claimed to fulfil. In respect of checking with the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Scottish Ministers may be able to provide further information on the checks undertaken and responses received.
I hope you find this information of assistance.
Tribunals Operations Support
Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service
Tel: 01698 390012
From: Minh Alexander [REDACTED]
FOI request for Mental Health Tribunal Scotland 30 May 2019
In response to an FOI request by R Woods of 19 November 2018, the Mental Health Tribunal Scotland advised that Zholia Alemi sat on 89 hearings:
“Dear R Woods
Thank you for your email of 19 November 2018 requesting the following information:
“Please could you confirm that Zholia Alemi was a medical member of the Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland, and if so:
In how many hearings (tribunals) did she participate as the medical member?
And if the Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland has any plans to review the tribunals in which she participated?”
Ms Alemi was a member of the MHTS from 2008 and sat until May 2013. During that time she participated in 89 hearings. Due to the time which has passed since she was last active, all decisions to which she contributed will by now have been reviewed by another tribunal, or the patient discharged from care and treatment.
I trust you will find this information of assistance.
Tribunals Operations Support
Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service
18th December 2018”
On 8 January 2019 the Tribunal provided further clarification as follows:
“Dear Mr Woods
Thank you for your email, in which you request clarification of our response to your FOI request of 19 November 2018.
Compulsory Treatment Orders (CTOs) may be made on an interim basis, or for a period as specified in the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003. In respect of decisions taken by a panel which included Ms Alemi, the patient will either have been discharged, or the order considered by a different panel. This has occurred in each case either on the expiry of an interim order or on a statutory application to continue an order. No patients will require any additional hearing as a result of her participation.
I trust that this provides sufficient clarification.
Tribunals Operations Support
Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service”
The Tribunal does not appear to have answered R Woods’ twice put question about whether Zholia Alemi sat as a medical member of the Tribunal.
Please can the Tribunal answer this question.
Please also answer the following additional questions:
Please can the Tribunal advise if Zholia Alemi applied to be a medical member on the basis that she was:
1) a consultant psychiatrist;
2) that she held the professional qualification of MRCPsych (Membership of the Royal College of Psychiatrists);
3) did the Tribunal check with the Royal College of Psychiatrists that she held the MRCPsych qualification?
4) did the Royal College of Psychiatrists confirm that she was indeed MRCPsych qualified?
Dr Minh Alexander”
This is the crucial section of the legal regulations about medical members that the Mental Health Tribunal Scotland pointed to in its response, which indicated that Alemi would have needed to have demonstrated that she was a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists:
As the Tribunal has indicated that Scottish Ministers are responsible for verification of prospective medical Tribunal members’ credentials, they will be the next port of call.
Unless of course, the College finds the dignity to provide some clarification in the mean time.
UPDATE 10 JUNE 2019
I noticed that the GMC had published these details at some point on its website of repeated missed opportunities to detect Alemi’s deception:
“Have we ever had a complaint about Zholia Alemi before?
Since we confirmed Zholia Alemi gained registration fraudulently in 1995, we’ve been reviewing all fitness to practise complaints that were raised with us.
In all, we investigated nine complaints during the 23 years that she was on the medical register. And in the majority of these referrals we took action to address the issues raised.
· From our review it is clear that a concern about Zholia Alemi was raised with us in 1998 when there was a complaint about inappropriate personal comments she made to a patient. We closed this complaint but the matter was handled locally – restrictions and supervision were put in place to address the issue.
· In 2004 we received a complaint that culminated in Zholia Alemi being given formal advice about the need to demonstrate sensitive communication with families.
· The next time concerns were raised about Zholia Alemi was in December 2010. This led to her receiving a warning in 2012. From December 2010 until the warning was given in July 2012, we investigated the concerns that had been raised, as well as some new concerns that came to light during the course of that investigation. Matters arising from the warning were later referred to a hearing, which took place in 2017 and at which she was found not impaired by a medical practitioners tribunal. The reason for the length of time between the warning being reopened and the 2017 tribunal was due to the matters under investigation being complex and complicated further by health issues raised by Zholia Alemi.
· In 2018 she was given a 12-month suspension following a further medical practitioners tribunal. “
Importantly, there is also now a quiet admission by the GMC that Zholia Alemi passed successfully through specialist psychiatric training, kitemarked by the Royal College of Psychiatrists:
“Have you established any further information about Zholia Alemi’s work history?
We know that she worked in a range of locations throughout the 20 years from being granted full registration until we suspended her from the medical register in 2017. And that we know she worked as a locum for a significant period of time
We also know that she sat and passed the Member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists exam in 2003. At the time, this was a two-part exam with written and clinical parts. The MRCPysch, as it is known, is awarded to those doctors who have completed at least three years training in psychiatry and who pass the two-part test. The royal college subsequently recommended her for entry to our Specialist Register in 2012 in psychiatry with learning disability. This meant that the royal college was satisfied she had demonstrated the knowledge, skills and experience required to be appointed as a substantive consultant in the NHS.”
This is quite extraordinary, and a reflection of very low expectations, which raises many, many questions about the Safeguarding of mental health and learning disability patients.
I have asked the Royal College of Psychiatrists for more details of Alemi’s pre and post membership specialist training. I would not be at all surprised to be met with more obfuscation and resistance.
Further update 10 June 2019
A letter from the GMC to the National Assembly of Wales of 30 November 2018 reveals extraordinary details of the earlier referrals and prior incidents that slipped through the GMC’s fingers before Alemi’s final unmasking last year as a bogus doctor.
Amongst the catalogue of Alemi’s transgressions are misleading CV details, failures to declare a conviction for careless driving and an ongoing GMC investigation, working without required Section 12 approval, concerns of earlier dishonesty at St Georges, – attempting to a leave form and pharmacy prescription card for suspected fraudulent reasons and a report to the GMC in 2004 by the Met police that Alemi had allegedly assaulted a police officer.