A fake doctor who bamboozled NSW Health and patients alike, may have fled the country, after it was revealed that he stole the identity and qualifications of a real doctor from his home country of India.
Mr Shyam Acharya, who practiced at Gosford Hospital and three other NSW hospitals, including Wyong, posed as a doctor, Dr Sarang Chitale for 11 years, and handled the medical care of potentially thousands of patients, was unlicensed, unqualified and a flat out fraud.
NSW Shadow Health Minster, Mr Walt Secord, has demanded that the State Government reveal the extent of the activity of Mr Acharya during his 11 years at Gosford, Wyong, Manly and Hornsby hospitals, and described the situation as a “Shoddy Australian version of Leonardo DiCaprio’s ‘Catch Me If You Can’.”
Mr Secord has called for the State Government to reveal if it had contacted all of Mr Acharya’s affected patients from 2003 to 2014.
Mr Secord also called for the NSW Government to outline what processes have been put in place to ensure that there are no other fraudulently accredited doctors working in the State.
According to Mr Secord, the Acharya case showed a wide-spread systematic failure under various governments.
“Clearly there is a problem in NSW, as last month the Medical Council of NSW told a Parliamentary Inquiry that Dr John Grygiel, the oncologist who under-dosed more than 100 cancer patients, still has his medical license and could continue to practise if he wanted to,” Mr Secord said.
“It is incredible that this man could practice for 11 years and come into contact with hundreds of patients and go unnoticed as a non-doctor.
“The Health Minister, Mr Brad Hazzard, and his Department have to explain; ‘What does a fake doctor have to do in NSW to get caught?”
When questioned as to how Mr Acharya could slip through the cracks for over a decade, Minister for Health, Mr Brad Hazzard, said he would raise the issue at this month’s Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Health Minister’s meeting, to determine whether checks and balances at a national level were in place to prevent this from happening again.
“It is quite disturbing that a foreign national could get through our border protection with a false passport and ID based on an Indian citizen who had trained as a doctor,” Mr Hazzard said.
Mr Hazzard also said that on top of raising the issue at the COAG meeting, he has directed the Ministry of Health to look at every aspect of registration to make sure that NSW Health has done whatever it can to look beyond fake passports, with particular reference to primary documents from country of origin.
“The Ministry of Health has advised me there have been substantial changes since 2003 in the checks that are made, but I want Health to revisit the issue and make absolutely certain that the new federal registration process, operating since 2011, is as scrupulous as can be.
“I am also offering to meet with the one patient and his family where concerns were raised about the adequacy of his treatment,” Mr Hazzard said.
NSW Health also weighed in on the issue, claiming The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) had been investigating Mr Acharya for falsely holding himself out as a registered medical practitioner from as early as November 2016, according to NSW Health Deputy Secretary, Ms Karen Crawshaw.
AHPRA has since charged Mr Acharya with a breach of Section 116 of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law.
If it results in a conviction, it carries a fine of up to $30,000.
It is alleged in these proceedings that Mr Acharya appropriated another doctor’s name and medical qualifications while living in India, and that he used these stolen and other fraudulent documents to falsely gain registration with the Medical Board of NSW in 2003.
“The matters currently before the court do not deal with how he was able to enter and leave Australia, or how he obtained Australian citizenship in the name of the other doctor,” Ms Crawshaw said.
“These issues were brought to the attention of the Australian Federal Police, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
“His current whereabouts are unknown.
“On being contacted by AHPRA, NSW Health began an investigation of Mr Acharya’s former employment in NSW Health, which ended in May 2014.
“Mr Acharya used the identity of the doctor to gain employment in the NSW Public Health system from 2003 to 2014, specifically at Manly, Hornsby, Wyong and Gosford hospitals.
“His status as a junior doctor with limited registration required that he work under supervision of other clinicians.
“Investigations of the two relevant local health districts have found only one clinical incident where there were concerns about the adequacy of the treatment, although it is noted that Mr Acharya’s involvement was only as one of a number in the clinical team that treated the patient.
“NSW Health has notified solicitors acting for the patient,” Ms Crawshaw said in a media statement.
The Medical Council of NSW and the Health Care Complaints Commission have both advised that they have received no complaints about Mr Acharya.
NSW Health’s recruitment processes have been strengthened since 2003.
Since 2011, in addition to written references, direct verbal referee checks are required for all junior medical officers, including overseas-trained doctors, and one from a current supervisor.
Up until 2003, each State had its own registration system for doctors and nurses.
However, since 2010, registrations have transitioned to a national system.
Central Coast Local Health District, Chief Executive Officer, Dr Andrew Montague, confirmed a person falsely claiming to be a registered medical practitioner worked at Gosford and Wyong Hospitals from February 2003 to April 2006.
“Following notification by the AHPRA, Central Coast Local Health District undertook a review of the District’s incident management system, and investigations of incidents, to identify if this person had been involved in any clinical incidents or complaints,” Dr Montague said.
“The review did not identify any clinical incidents or complaints associated with this person.
“The District followed the required process during recruitment, including medical registration and identity checks.
“AHPRA are the national body who ensure health professions are regulated by nationally consistent legislation under the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme.
“As this is an ongoing legal matter, the District is unable to provide any further details,” Dr Montague added.
Anyone with concerns that they may have been a patient of Mr Acharya should contact a patient representative from their relevant Local Health District.
Mar 8, 2017
Walt Secord, NSW Shadow Health Minster
Brad Hazzard, Minster for Health
Karen Crawshaw, NSW Health Deputy Secretary
Dr Andrew Montague, Central Coast Local Health District
Dilon Luke, Journalist