Zholia Alemi was a trusted NHS psychiatrist. But as PHIL COLEMAN exclusively reports, her 23-year career was built on lies.

SHE worked as a doctor in the UK for 23 years.

A consultant psychiatrist, whose most recent job saw her working for a dementia service in west Cumbria, Zholia Alemi was trusted to provide care for the most vulnerable patients. People in crisis, battling through mental illness, trauma, and dementia.

It was a career built on lies.

A News & Star investigation has uncovered how the 56-year-old New Zealander cynically exploited a loophole in UK medical registration procedures to pass herself off as a qualified doctor. She got away with it for 23 years.

Yet Alemi never qualified.

In reality, she dropped out of medical school in New Zealand in 1992, having failed the first year of a five-year medical degree.

Her only qualification was a degree in human biology.

The News & Star began the probe after Alemi was successfully prosecuted at Carlisle Crown Court for faking the will of a grief-stricken widow in west Cumbria - part of an audacious attempt to inherit the pensioner’s £1.3m estate.

She met her victim - 84-year-old Bridekirk woman Gillian Belham - after staff at Workington Community Hospital’s Memory Matters dementia clinic asked her to assess the widow, who was struggling with life following the death of her husband.

Alemi befriended Mrs Belham, helping her with her shopping, taking her for meals, and offering to help the former Bank of England clerk with her finances.

It was a cruel facade.

Referred to by Mrs Belham as her “doctor friend”, Alemi meticulously forged the pensioner’s will as she took control of her financial affairs.

“This was despicable criminality, motivated by pure greed,” said Judge James Adkin as he jailed Alemi for five years. To all concerned, Alemi was a doctor who had gone off the rails.

Intelligent, charming, and apparently highly qualified, she had created an identity for herself which fooled both her patients and the many professionals she worked with. Even the judge who jailed her seemed not to suspect anything.

“Your status as a doctor was integral to your confidence trick,” remarked the judge.

The truth was even more shocking than anybody knew: Alemi was neither Gillian Belham’s friend, nor a doctor. Our investigation has revealed how she used her talent for forgery to launch an entirely fraudulent career as a psychiatrist.

Despite crashing out of her doctor’s training at The University of Auckland after only a year, Alemi arrived in the UK in 1992 determined to work as a doctor.

She lodged a formal application to register as a doctor with the General Medical Council, the organisation responsible for overseeing the registration and regulation of all doctors working in the United Kingdom.

She presented officials with what they believed was her “primary medical qualification” - a certificate apparently proving she was awarded a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB) by The University of Auckland.

She also handed over a letter confirming her graduation, and a recommendation from her most recent employer in Pakistan.

Those documents were fake.

Somehow, that breathtaking deception remained hidden until now.

Responding to questions from the News & Star, officials at The Medical Council of New Zealand - the country’s equivalent of the GMC - confirmed that Alemi never has qualified as a doctor.

“Zholia Alemi has never been registered as a medical practitioner (doctor) with the Medical Council of New Zealand,” said a spokesman.

“The council has been advised by the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences that Zholia Alemi does not hold a MBChB.”

Told about this, the GMC immediately launched its own investigation. The organisation’s chief executive Charlie Massey said: “These are serious issues and we are investigating them urgently.

“It is extremely concerning that a person used a fraudulent qualification to join the register and we are working to understand how this happened.

“We have brought this to the attention of police and other agencies, including NHS England, so that they may also take any necessary action to support patients and answer any questions they may have.

“Our processes are far stronger now, with rigorous testing in place to ensure those joining the register are fit to work in the UK.

“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. Patients deserve good care from appropriately qualified professionals and place a great deal of trust in doctors. To exploit that trust and the respected name of the profession is abhorrent.”

During her career, Alemi treated hundreds - possibly thousands - of patients, all of them vulnerable because of their poor mental health.

She once specialised in learning disability issues and was a director of a Huddersfield based firm named Healthy Minds and Wellbeing Limited, which took on private patients.

There were warning signs - clues to her dishonesty.

Alemi first came to the attention of the authorities in 2012 when officials discovered she had lied on official forms, failing to disclose a conviction for careless driving.

More worryingly, she sanctioned the detention of psychiatric patients (against their will) for treatment, despite at the time not having authority to do such work. For this she was given an official warning by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal. Despite this and the criminal prosecution, neither the police nor the medical authorities checked her New Zealand background.

Her trial heard how she collected Champagne as an investment. With psychiatrists earning between £76,000 and £103,000, she had plenty of cash to invest.

A Cumbria Police spokesman said: “Cumbria Constabulary is liaising with the General Medical Council and will be commencing further criminal investigations relating to allegations of fraud and any potential further offences. It would not be appropriate to comment further at this time.”


The General Medical Council says that patients who may be affected by Zholia Alemi’s bogus practice will be supported.
Anybody who may have a concern can call the organisation’s contact centre for advice on 0161 923 6602.
The national mental health charity SANE has also said it will be able to take calls from anybody who may have been affected over this weekend.
The charity’s SANEline is available from 4.30pm to 10.30pm on every day of the year. The number to call is 0300 304 7000.
The charity is not in a position to offer victims of Alemi’s deception legal advice. SANE is a leading UK mental health charity, working to improve the quality of life for anyone affected by mental illness.