Background Checking

Police hunt ‘fake’ doctor as Health Minister can’t say if the imposter performed surgery

Date: 9 March 2017
Source: The Daily Telegraph

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard says jail time was needed as a penalty in the fake foreign doctor scandal and has slammed the current $30,000 fine as “woefully inadequate”.

Impostor foreign doctor Shyam Acharya faked his way into Australia on a stolen identity and treated patients in the state’s hospitals and emergency departments for more than 10 years.

He is now on the run and is believed to have fled overseas after faking his citizenship, forging a passport and doctoring medical qualifications that he stole from a doctor in India.

Today, the NSW government released a passport photo of the man they’re looking for.

Mr Hazzard said he was “horrified” the sham doctor managed to get into the NSW hospital but admitted he did not know whether the man had performed surgery or how and when he managed to leave the country.

He refused to outline how he was busted, saying the federal authority did not want the information revealed.

“The way he was caught, they’re advising me that they don’t want that to be published … because they want to be able to, in effect, catch people,” he said.

“I am horrified that this fellow managed to get into the NSW hospital system.”

“If we can catch this guy, he deserves jail,” he said.

Tougher penalties are also on the cards, Mr Hazzard said.

Premier Berejiklian said health authorities were trying to contact patients, and Mr Hazzard would raise it at a COAG heads of government meeting.

“It’s just simply shocking to know that he got through our border protection system on someone else’s documents, pretending to be something he (wasn’t) and of course we empathise with all those patients who were under his care,” she said.

The Premier said the community would be asking questions about the “shocking circumstances”. “I can imagine what a lot of people in the community are thinking — how could this happen for such a long period of time,” she said.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said it was a set of “shocking circumstances” and promised the issue would be elevated nationally at the next meeting of heads of government.

Ms Berejiklian said changes had been made over the years.

“Since that time, a lot of changes have been made — unfortunately, 11 years is a long time,” she said.

“But since that time there have been more stringent processes put in place in the Department of Health in terms of the state’s responsibilities.”

It is believed the fake doctor assumed the identity of “Sarang Chitale” to work in the health system from 2003 to 2014 at Manly, Hornsby, Wyong and Gosford hospitals.

He obtained registration with the Medical Board of NSW in 2003 using stolen medical qualifications and other fraudulent documents.

NSW Health admitted his fraud had gone unchecked for 11 years.

Authorities have combed his records and detected his involvement in at least one bungle where a team botched a procedure ­involving a broken limb.

After leaving his ­employment with NSW Health in May 2014 it is ­believed the junior doctor continued his fraud by getting work with a private company. However this work did not deal with patients. It is understood Acharya was incredibly proficient at faking his qualifications and was held in high regard by the peers he duped.

The Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Authority investigated Acharya and he has been charged with Commonwealth offences.

NSW Health said it was not aware of AHPRA’s investigation until November 2016 and only then did they start looking into his work history.

Mr Hazzard outlined the process behind the fake doctor exiting the public system.

“In 2010-2011, the new system came in across the country, the federal AHPRA body … so he then got, I’m advised, the limited registration each year under the new system,” he said.

“But by the third registration, his luck ran out. He was no longer able to satisfy the federal body of his capacity to have full registration. You have three lots under the new system of being able to satisfy the federal body about your limited registration and you have to undergo all the checks and balances each year that are now in place.

“At the end of that three years, if you haven’t absolutely satisfied on every front, you can’t practice. This fellow lost the right to practice.”

The man then moved outside the public system.

“Now, I’m told that he then went and worked in the private sector and beyond that, I can’t make comment for the reason of the prosecution — the federal body has asked me to make no comment beyond that,” he said.

While Mr Hazzard praised the current system, he said: “No I don’t think it’s capable of being a perfect system.”

“It can never be guaranteed that there’s no chance that somebody could circumvent it,” he said.

“If you have someone with capacity, intelligence and intent, crimes do happen.”

But he was adamant that AHPRA — which informed him the man was overseas — now considered its current system to be world class.

Checks and balances were far more stringent than they were many years ago, he said.

“The state health department has also told me, though, that in regard to the new procedures … one, they check the original documents through a body which is used internationally out of America,” he said.

“And two, they actually go to the trouble these days of ringing, personally, to the referees and checking the referees.”

“If we can catch this guy, he deserves jail,” he said.

Tougher penalties are also on the cards, Mr Hazzard said.

“Greg Hunt and I have agreed, in our first conversation about this morning, that we will both be pushing for jail penalties across the country,” he said.

“It will require all states and territories to agree, but I’m fairly confident that other jurisdictions would agree that $30,000 is just woefully inadequate.”

He said he would meet with one patient whose family was concerned about “the adequacy of his treatment”.

AHPRA has charged Acharya with breach of section 116 of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law. The offence carries a fine of up to $30,000 if he is convicted.

“His current whereabouts are unknown,” NSW Health deputy secretary Karen Crawshaw said.

“The Medical Council of NSW and the Health Care Complaints Commission have advised they have ­received no complaints about Mr Acharya,” she said.

NSW shadow health minster Walt Secord ­demanded the government reveal the extent of the fraudulent doctor’s work and said the case showed a “widespread systematic failure”.

“If this matter wasn’t so shocking, the details would read like a shoddy Down Under version of Leonardo DiCaprio’s ‘Catch Me If You Can’,” he said.

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