An Indian junior doctor with limited registration was found to have been practising at New South Wales (NSW) hospitals in Australia for more than a decade under the identity of another doctor.

Australia’s Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) has laid charges against the fake doctor, Shyam Acharya for a breach of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, which carries a maximum penalty of AUD $30,000. However, it is not clear if he will face court as he is suspected to be overseas, according to NSW health minister, Brad Hazzard.

According to a text message sent by Acharya to his neighbours in January, he is currently suspected to be working in Singapore.

“It is incredible that this man could practice for 11 years and come into contact with hundreds of patients and go unnoticed,” said opposition health spokesman, Walt Secord.

No medical complaints received

According to Karen Crawshaw, NSW Health deputy secretary, imposter Shyam Acharya had allegedly stole documents of another doctor while in India and assumed the identity of Sarang Chitale, using his medical qualifications along with fraudulent documents to register with the Medical Council of NSW in 2003.

Investigations by NSW Health only found one clinical incident involving concerns about “the adequacy of the treatment”, but only as one of the members of a clinical team.

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

“The documentation that got him registered was in fact legitimate documentation of a doctor. We now require written references and contact directly referees of doctors seeking employment.”

Medical Error Action Group founder Lorraine Long said it was unclear what work Acharya had been engaged with.

"You couldn't work in a hospital for that long and... not do any procedure. I find that hard to believe," she said.

Lost the right to practice in Australia’s public system

NSW Health admitted his fraud had gone undetected for 11 years. Under the new tightened rules by AHPRA in 2010 to 2011, Acharya was unable to obtain full registration in the public system after three years of limited registration.

“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,” said Hazzard.

After leaving NSW Health in May 2014, it is ¬believed the junior doctor continued his fraud by working with a private company. However, this work did not involve dealing with patients.

It is understood that the fake doctor was incredibly skilled at faking his qualifications and was held in high regard by his peers.

Acharya who is currently suspected to be in Singapore was said to have travelled there frequently, working as a doctor in the emergency department.

Health Department to take further actions

Hazzard plans to raise the issue at the Council of Australian Governments Health Minister’s meeting to investigate whether the checks and balances are in place at a national level to avoid any fraud case in the future.

“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,” he added.

Australian Medical Association (AMA) NSW president, Professor Brad Frankum commented that the accreditation process from medical colleges today is very rigorous for foreign doctors.

“There is a requirement now for a verbal referee check from somebody who has worked with the individual overseas which wasn’t in place back in 2003,” he said.

In the meantime, the Australian Federal Police, Department of Immigration and Border Protection and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have also started investigating how Acharya was approved as an Australian citizen.

Hazzard has announced that the home owned by Acharya in North Ryde worth AUD $1.5 million will be seized, and the money from the sale would go back to NSW Health for recouping the wages paid previously. MIMS

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