Bogus psychiatrist’s patients ‘given electroshock therapy’
by Rohese Devereux Taylor
May 18, 2019
Scotland’s chief medical officer has now written to the six health boards thought to have employed Zholia Alemi who “masqueraded” as a doctor in the UK for more than 20 years.
In a letter dated May 10, Dr Catherine Calderwood addressed the chief executives of NHS Borders, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, NHS Ayrshire and Arran, NHS Grampian, NHS Tayside and NHS Highland confirming that a high number of patients had “potentially been impacted” and requesting a review of patient records.
In the letter Dr Calderwood writes that she has suspicions that an unknown number of patients may have been subjected to what is now called electro-convulsive therapy, medical prescriptions or had their liberty restricted under the Mental Health Act by Alemi, who practiced as a consultant psychiatrist for 22 years before she was convicted of trying to defraud a patient in October 2018.
Dr Calderwood said: “It is expected that the review will identify […] those for whom Ms Alemi’s activity did have an impact on their care through the prescription of drugs, electro-convulsive therapy, treatment or diagnosis, or in the use of the Mental Health Act.”
The letter also alerts NHS bosses that Alemi is known to have “befriended and ‘groomed’ vulnerable people that she came into contact with […] with the aim of accessing their financial affairs” and requests that any concerns over “inappropriate relationships” be recorded to be fed back to Police Scotland.
NHS Ayrshire and Arran confirmed to The Herald that Alemi was employed by them as a locum for around 18 months in 2007. During that time she saw 395 general patients, 24 of whom were detained by her under the Mental Health Act.
Medical director Dr Alison Graham said: “We are in the process of reviewing all notes and plan to inform patients in line with advice from the chief medical officer. We would like to apologise for any distress this situation may have caused.”
Alemi also worked for NHS Borders “for a short number of weeks” in 2003 and had “a spell” working for the former NHS Argyll and Clyde area, now within NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, between May 2005 and July 2006. NHS Tayside confirmed she worked within their mental health services “for a short period of time” in 2009, while NHS Highland said she worked in Inverness for six months in 2003.
The Scottish Government would not confirm how many patients were affected.
In November 2018, Dr Calderwood sent an initial directive to the chief executives and medical directors of Scotland’s 14 NHS health boards to establish where she had worked and the number of patients the New Zealand-born fraudster may have treated.
The letter advises that an Expert Clinical Advisory Group (ECAG) has been formed to help the health boards review the records and to support them in contacting people affected or their families.
The letter also identifies “implications for some patients for whom Ms Alemi sat as a medical member on a mental health tribunal” and recommends a review on the decision-making process around the tribunals.
In a response to a Freedom of Information request made by The Herald in November 2018, the Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland revealed that Alemi sat on 89 hearings from 2008 to 2013.
They stated that all official decisions she contributed to would have been reviewed by further tribunals due to the amount of time passed, and any patients affected by her input would have been discharged from “care and treatment”.
The ECAG is made up of representatives of the boards where Alemi worked, representatives of service-users, the Mental Welfare Commission, the General Medical Council and the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
As well as assisting with the management of patient reviews, the board will support the health boards in their communications with any patients affected, or their families, to “offer support and an explanation” in line with the Scottish Government and the NHS’ “commitment to transparency”.
Dr Calderwood informed the chief executives that the advisory group suggests the use of a “standardised letter” that offers “an explanation, guidance and the provision of support mechanisms”.
Alemi, 56, was jailed for five years for faking an 87-year-old patient’s will in an attempt to inherit her £1.3 million estate after they met at a dementia clinic in Cumbria in 2016.
But it transpired she had been practising illegally in the UK for 22 years. Dr Moira Connolly, interim director of the Mental Welfare Commission, said: “The Mental Welfare Commission’s role has been to assist in trying to identify any patients whose care may have been influenced or affected by the input of Ms Alemi.
“People have the right to know and boards need to be on hand to provide information and support thereafter.”
A Government spokeswoman said: “A review of all relevant records is under way and once this is completed any individuals whose care has been affected by Ms Alemi will be contacted with an apology, explanation, and offer of support.”