Sydney, March 9: Shyam Acharya, 41, who worked in NSW hospitals from 2003, allegedly stole an Indian doctor’s identity to become Dr Sarang Chitale, and then came to Australia, sponsored by NSW Health.
This case came up for ‘mention’ on Monday, in Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court, but was only made public on Tuesday.
Today, the NSW government released a passport photo of the man they’re looking for.
Acharya’s string of fraudulence ranged from allegedly using falsified documents – Dr Sarang Prakash Chitale’s passport to enter Australia in 2003 and falsely obtaining Australian citizenship.
He also obtained registration with the Medical Board of NSW in 2003 using stolen medical qualifications and other fraudulent documents.
That permitted Acharya to work at Manly, Hornsby, Wyong and Gosford hospitals masquerading as Dr Chitale up until May 2014, which paid him a six-figure salary. Though, hired as a junior doctor with limited registration, he was under the supervision of other clinicians.
After leaving his employment with NSW Health, the incredibly adept fake-ster Acharya gave up his medical registration and started working with Sydney medical research company, Novotech.
Although his work there, did not deal with patients; Acharya was now going for the bigger leap – to set himself up as a health expert.
Held in high regard by his peers, Acharya represented Novotech at an international conference in Singapore last year, taking centre-stage and talking about risk management in medical profession.
There Acharya did a Charles Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”
A Novotech spokeswoman told The Australian that Acharya represented himself as the company’s medical director.
“In September 2016, Novotech management became aware that he may have misrepresented his identity and qualifications,” she said.
“Novotech immediately took steps to investigate and contacted the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency and NSW police, among others.
“Those organisations conducted their own investigations into this issue with which Novotech fully co-operated.”
Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) has laid charges against him for breach of section 116 of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law and is preparing further submissions for the court.
Apparently, AHPRA alerted NSW Health to the allegations in November last year.
But, NSW Health has defended the department’s recruitment practices.
“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 said in a statement.
“The Medical Council of NSW and the Health Care Complaints Commission have advised they have received no complaints about Mr Acharya.”
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the situation was shocking, especially with regards border protection.
“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 told ABC.
“I will raise it at this month’s COAG Health Minister’s meeting to see whether the checks and balances are in place at a national level so that this can’t occur again.”
It is incredible that Acharya went unnoticed for 11 years practicing and coming into contact with hundreds of patients during that time. The Australian Federal Police, Department of Immigration and Border Protection and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have now started investigating how Acharya managed to steal an Indian doctor’s identity and then went on to become an Australian citizen.
An Immigration Department spokesman said that the citizenship fraud was “a serious matter with serious consequences” and the case was under investigation.
Acharya is facing a pittance fine of maximum $30,000. But his current whereabouts are unknown and he is understood have fled Australia, after selling all his belongings – a motorbike, electric bicycle and computer. He also cancelled his Australian Medical Association membership, which he had held for 6months.
It is understood that Acharya would have become aware of the allegations against him.
The AHPRA alleges Acharya falsely presented himself as having bachelor of medicine and bachelor of surgery qualifications and of being a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians.
Minister Hazzard said the penalty for such a crime should be jail time and slammed the current $30,000 fine as “woefully inadequate”.
He said that Acharya did not exit the public health system out of his own accord.
“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.
“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.”
Thus, Acharya was, in effect, pushed out of the health system,” he said.
He worked at pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca in 2013 and 2014 and then moved on to Novotech. It is understood that Acharya also seems to have started a medical communications business in 2016 out of a Sydney residential premise.
Notably, only one in five doctors in rural India are qualified to practice medicine, a WHO report revealed in July, last year.
A perilous expose of the report was that up to 57% of health practitioners did not have any medical qualification. Even more dangerous for India’s population is the revelation that nearly one-third of the practicing allopathic doctors had been educated only up to Class 12.
Pointing to the widespread prevalence of quackery, the report questioned efficacy of India’s healthcare workforce.
In the case of Indian-American surgeon Jayant Patel working at Queensland’s Bundaberg Base Hospital, Dr Patel, though, trained as a doctor, he was accused of other offences. Dr Patel later, pleaded guilty to two counts of dishonestly gaining registration and gaining employment in Queensland.
In another case, Perth based Indian-origin radiologist, Dr Robert Taylor, 47, had his registration cancelled after revelations that he was facing sex assault charges in US under the name of Dr Max Mehta.
1969 born, Dr Max Mehta, was originally from Ludhiana in Punjab, India.