This week the story broke of a woman originally from New Zealand, Zholia Alemi, who had been practising as an NHS psychiatrist for over 20 years in the UK with no medical qualifications. The news has had widespread ramifications and has led to the General Medical Council (GMC), providing public comment and enforcing measures to check other doctors. The story is real, shocking and it has potentially affected thousands of patients and families over the years. This has sparked thought from our side on the lessons to be learnt on people risk, how this could have been prevented, and why it is time for a wider health check on screening processes.
1. Is Reputational Damage Worth the Risk?
Employee and insider fraud, across both the public and private sector, poses a huge (and potentially very costly) risk to organisations. In the case of Ms. Alemi, her lack of medical qualifications was identified after she was convicted of fraud and theft, in which she had tried to forge an elderly dementia patient’s will in an attempt to inherit her £1.3 million estate in Cumbria. The General Medical Council (GMC), responsible for maintaining the official register of medical practitioners in the UK, issued public comment and pertained to old processes not being effective enough.
It’s difficult to look past the fact that this has been a reactive (not proactive) approach by the GMC. For the NHS, there is likely to be some longer term fallout from a reputational perspective. The lesson here is to not be afraid to challenge existing processes to help protect organisations, safeguard employees and the people they serve; in this instance, the largest impact here was the lack of duty of care to patients.
2. Supply Chain Transparency
Supply chain due diligence is something we are passionate about here at Neotas and we have previously covered the topic with the Modern Slavery Act in mind. There is such a strong case, across the healthcare sector and further afield, to enhance due diligence processes, building transparency across the entire supply chain to protect individuals. What’s more, the rapid pace of change in technological advancements means that supply chains transcend global borders. Organisations should be using all available information to interrogate and adapt their supply chain processes. In the case of Ms. Alemi, it would have taken just a few phone calls by the GMC to verify the information.
3. People Risk- It’s Real and it’s Costly.
The case of Ms. Alemi has led to widespread checks by the GMC and a very public response. Fraud is estimated to cost organisations up to £193bn/year (according to the Annual Fraud Reporter) and in any instance, there will be a human element involved, either in terms of input or impact. Identifying and reducing people risk should be placed further up the agenda for organisations seeking to enhance their operational effectiveness and safeguard against fraud in the modern age.
4. Crossing Borders
We are in the era of a globally mobile workforce and the gig economy. The cross-border movement of staff can prove a strategic challenge for organisations and regulatory institutions, and as we have seen, for public bodies such as the GMC.
Rob McFarland, COO at K2 Corporate Mobility, shares his views on the topic:
“The world gets smaller everyday but every border that is crossed brings an additional layer of complexity for both individuals and employers. For employers hiring from a global talent pool, the interview process may tease out the truth from an exaggerated CV but the task of verifying the academic and professional qualifications is far more difficult. I recall an incident where the Headmaster of an International School disappeared with a large sum of money, it was soon discovered that his entire identity was fictitious…it presents so many questions and thoughts of “what if”. We have to work harder and smarter to enhance the checks that are performed and avoid this process being ‘tick box exercise’ at all costs”
Ms. Alemi had travelled to the UK during a time (pre-2003) that did not enforce UK-based tests for new practitioners from Commonwealth countries such as New Zealand. In the digitally connected world we live in, the communication between institutions can and should happen globally. Had there been a check between the GMC and the academic institution Ms. Alemi falsely claimed to have issued her with a qualification, then the integrity of the basic background screening would have been upheld. However, an assumption was made, and this in part led to the failing. Ensuring the foundation checks, the standard background screening, are of integrity is also paramount.
5. What’s next?
This leads on to our final thought. It’s time for an industry-wide health check. Unfortunately, it can take something as detrimental as the case of Ms. Alemi to spark change. We hold the vehement view that it shouldn’t take something such as this to do so. By identifying and acknowledging gaps now, leveraging technology to do so, organisations can enforce the more “robust measures” that the GMC claim to be working on. We would be intrigued to know what this entails for the GMC but the key takeaway should be that screening processes need to change, especially when patient health is at risk.
For those who have been affected as patients, the damage may not be able to be undone and this should be warning enough for others. If this is the wake-up call and catalyst of change that is needed to help mitigate people risk, then we would urge organisations to do so before it’s too late.
Neotas are setting new standards in due diligence, compliance and screening processes. By leveraging open source intelligence, we connect the dots in digital trails to provide the full picture. Contact [email protected] to find out how we can help.