The Minister for Health says he has serious concerns after a health board staffer working as a psychiatrist was fired and arrested for possible identity fraud.
The Waikato District Health Board (DHB) said it had identified "serious issues of potential identity fraud" and a man who'd been working as a consultant psychiatrist appeared in court on Saturday on a fraud charge.
The man's patients included people with mental health and addiction issues.
Minister of Health Dr Jonathan Coleman said he would meet the Director-General of Health tomorrow to discuss the mater.
"I am also seeking assurance from both the Waikato DHB and the Medical Council of New Zealand over the recruitment process they followed in employing this individual," Dr Coleman said in a statement this afternoon.
The individual involved was stood down after his supervisor raised concerns over his competence and performance.
The man was under the supervision of a senior psychiatrist while working at the DHB but he saw some patients without supervision.
"The supervisor raised concerns about their professional ability, ultimately withdrawing supervision, which resulted in immediate withdrawal of the person's ability to practise," Waikato DHB chief executive Dr Nigel Murray said.
Waikato DHB said it was now contacting about 25 patients the man saw during his tenure at the health board.
The DHB said it and the Medical Council of New Zealand identified concerns about the documents the man presented - which may have belonged to someone else.
"As these enquiries raised serious issues of potential identity fraud, this person is no longer employed by the Waikato District Health Board and is unable to carry out medical duties in New Zealand," the DHB said today.
The man was given name suppression at Hamilton District Court and remanded in custody.
The man worked in the crisis, triage and home-based treatment services.
"These services are responsible for triaging all contacts with mental health services and directing them to the service best placed to meet their needs. This person worked within a multi-disciplinary context and usually saw patients in the company of another member of staff," the DHB said.
"We are extremely concerned and our first priority is for the safety of our patients and their families. The information to date has not identified any harm to patients and we will continue to assess the situation" Dr Murray said.
"Whilst most patients seen by this person have subsequently been reviewed and are receiving appropriate care and treatment we have identified approximately 25 patients who have not been further followed up," he added. "Each patient will be offered follow-up services as soon as possible."
The health board said it carried out checks on the man's credentials and information available to the DHB and the Medical Council "verified the person's qualifications and ability to practice in New Zealand."
Now, both organisations said they would review their systems to strengthen their ability to identify potential fraud.
The DHB said patients seen by the triage, crisis or home-based treatment teams during this time who had concerns should call the Triage Service 0800 50 50 50 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Waikato DHB's Q&A on the identity fraud case:
1. How long was this person working here?
Approximately six months
2. How could the DHB employ a doctor with uncertain credentials?
While all these checks were carried out in this instance, the two organisations will be reviewing their systems and processes to further strengthen them against fraud. Our Credentialling process includes checking all qualifications and certificate of good standing. We also require three references from professional colleagues. We check each reference verbally. We also accept applications from reputable employment agencies and require them to carry out a thorough due diligence. These documents are presented to the Electoral Committee for review before a job is offered. All positions are only offered subject to due diligence by the Medical Council of New Zealand.
3. What do you have in place to stop this happening again?
The systems are working well and this is how we were able to pick this person up. His designated supervisor is employed by Waikato DHB. The supervisor played a critical role in overseeing the person's practice and acted decisively in raising issues. As a result of these concerns his practise was suspended and a review of his credential were put in place. Never the less, in light of all these matters we will be continually reviewing and refining processes.
4. What checks are in place for a doctor to work at Waikato DHB?
We verify an applicant's academic and professional qualifications and their credentials to ensure that they have the legal right to work in NZ. The Medical Council carry out a thorough process of review as well and issue the annual practice certificate with the relevant scope of practice.
5. Was this process followed in this particular case?
We believe we did follow the right process that is currently in place but that is something that our own enquiries and the police investigation will need to confirm.
6. How do you know that the DHB doesn't have any other doctors with uncertain credentials employed?
While we believe these processes are effective, we regularly refine and strengthen our processes regarding credentialing and privelaging of our doctors, particularly in light of the potential of identity fraud.
7. Has any patients have been harmed or harmed anyone else because of the person?
None that we are aware of but we are continuing to review the situation.
8. How many patients did this person see?
Mental Health care is provided by teams of mental health professionals, he was part of the team. There were approximately 25 patients who were not seen in this team environment which he saw.
9. If he was being supervised, how come he saw patients without supervision?
Psychiatrists working under supervision are not supervised all of the time. This person had regular meetings with his designated supervisor to discuss his work.
10. Can you assure the public that systems and processes are in place to protect the NZ population from fraudulant doctors practising here?
The Medical Council undertakes a wide range of checks before granting registration to any doctor. These include obtaining Certificates of Good Standing from overseas medical regulators, and sighting the doctor's original qualifications etc. The Council is reviewing this case to ensure all appropriate robust systems and processes are in place.
Source: Waikato DHB