Urgent checks are to be carried out on 3,000 UK-based doctors whose careers were built on overseas qualifications after the News & Star exposed a bogus psychiatrist's illegal 23-year career.

For almost a quarter of a century, Zholia Alemi, 56, was an approved and trusted psychiatrist, most recently working for the NHS with dementia patients in west Cumbria.

She is currently serving a jail sentence for forging a grieving widow’s will as part of an audacious bid to inherit the pensioner’s £1.3m estate.

Despite this, and Alemi having been sanctioned by a medical tribunal for dishonesty in 2012, the authorities remained oblivious to her bogus qualifications.

Our investigation uncovered how her entire medical career was built on forged documents which falsely confirmed that she had been awarded a medical qualification in New Zealand.

The University of Auckland says she never qualified as a doctor.

Alemi dropped out of her medical training after failing the first year of a five-year course. At Carlisle Crown Court earlier this year, the fraudster’s daring attempt to inherit a wealthy pensioner’s estate was condemned by a judge as a “wicked crime”. Even after that prosecution, officials failed to check her background in New Zealand.

But a few phone calls to the Medical Council of New Zealand and the University of Auckland confirmed her only qualification was a degree in human biology.

The General Medical Council (GMC), which regulates the UK’s medical profession, apologised to Alemi’s patients. Its bosses have launched an immediate investigation.

“We are undertaking an urgent review,” said a GMC spokeswoman.

She said that the way in which Alemi got on to the Medical Register is no longer available. However, officials will now check the credentials of 3,000 UK-based doctors who qualified outside the EU before 1992.

The spokeswoman added: “Although this [registration method] was abolished in 2003, we are reviewing whether there are any instances where others abused this route.

“If we find any evidence of fraud we will take immediate action.

“There is nothing to suggest any other doctors who used this route are anything but honest, dedicated doctors. However, because of the issues this case has brought to light, it’s important to check.”

GMC chief executive Charlie Massey said Alemi was admitted to the UK Medical Register in 1995 - eight years before a more rigorous regime for validating non-EU trained doctors came into force.

The review team is expected to spend several weeks meticulously checking the qualifications of those doctors whose route on to the Medical Register was identical to Alemi’s.

There are also plans for a patients’ helpline.

In many cases, Alemi will have prescribed medications, diagnosed conditions, and even sanctioned hospital detentions for compulsory treatment. Being unqualified, she had no legal authority to do any of it.

Since the News & Star revealed Alemi’s deception, politicians across the county have spoken of their shock. Uppermost in their minds is the stark fact that she got away with it for 23 years, working closely with vulnerable patients, many of them elderly.

Workington MP Sue Hayman said: “The GMC should now be looking at how many overseas doctors were registered in this way during that period.

“They also need to know how many of these doctors are still practising and to check their qualifications. The last thing we want is for patients to be put at risk. They also need a system so that patients who are concerned can get in touch.”

Told that the GMC’s current checks on overseas doctors are more rigorous, Mrs Hayman said: “It really is surprising that they did not do retrospective checks.

“I will write to the Health Secretary just to ask him to confirm that, as part of the GMC investigation, they will look at overseas doctors who have had their qualifications accepted before the more rigorous checks.”

Cumbria County councillor Patricia Bell, responsible for adult social care, described the Alemi revelations as “shocking”. “It goes without saying that this failure was completely unacceptable,” she said.

Cumbria Police is now investigating Alemi for potential new offences. The GMC says concerned former patients can ring its contact centre on 0161 923 6602. For emotional support, call SANEline - a helpline operated by the SANE mental health charity. The number is 0300 304 7000.

* The GMC said that validation for EU-trained doctors both before and after 1992 has been sufficiently rigorous.