A dentist who deceived the General Dental Council (GDC) with a faked dental qualification and gained numerous NHS jobs over nine years, has been jailed for three years for fraud.
Yesterday, at Wolverhampton Crown Court (28 March), Vinisha Sharma, 37, of Honeybourne Way, Willenhall, West Midlands, received three years imprisonment on each of seven charges, to run concurrently.
The sentence follows a complex investigation by the NHS Counter Fraud Service that extended to India.
A confiscation hearing is set for July.
Sharma fraudulently earned hundreds of thousands of pounds from NHS hospitals across England.
She pleaded guilty to seven fraud-related offences and later tried, unsuccessfully, to withdraw the plea.
Charges that she also lied about her O’ level and A’ level grades in job applications to multiple NHS employers were left to lie on file.
Sharma was caught after a colleague raised the alarm at the Queen Victoria Hospital Foundation Trust (QVH) in East Grinstead, Sussex.
The trust had employed Sharma as a senior house officer in its oral and maxillofacial surgery department, where she started work in February 2008.
She earned a salary of around £35,000, plus an added 40% on call allowance.
Sharma provided falsified copies of certificates and received temporary registration, effectively giving her the licence to practise in the UK and apply for all her jobs in NHS hospitals (working under the supervision of consultants).
On her online job application form, Sharma claimed she was a qualified dentist and had completed the BDS in 1998 at the Sri Guru Ram Das Institute for Dental Sciences and Research in India, after studying for three years of the BDS at King’s College, London.
She provided copies of certificates to the QVH and the GDC that appeared to confirm this.
After a telephone job interview, she went through the QVH’s normal pre-employment and reference checks.
The GDC confirmed they would have refused to register Sharma had they known the truth, that she had no BDS. The trust also confirmed that they would never have employed her had they been aware.
The investigation established that she did study for the first three years of a five year BDS course at King’s College, but had struggled: her studentship terminated in the fourth year as she had been asked to re-sit year three due to concerns over her readiness to clinically progress to year four.
She also had to re-take the entire first year.
As she was unsuccessful in passing all of the Part 1 examinations in June and September 1993, she was permitted to repeat year one in the following academic year.
After suspicions were reported to the Local Counter Fraud Specialist by a member of staff, the trust suspended Sharma on full pay in December 2008 pending the outcome of an investigation (her contract ended in February 2009).
When interviewed, Sharma admitted the form had not been completed correctly and she did not have the qualification of MFDS (Member of the Faculty of Dental Surgery) Part A as stated, but claimed someone had completed the form on her behalf and made a mistake.
She provided a Certificate of Registration from the Punjab Dental Council (PDC) at the interview and also a copy of a BDS degree qualification that she said confirmed her qualifications.
It emerged later that Sharma had not passed the crucial BDS either, but had adapted the certificate of a genuine BDS graduate.
The Principal of the Sri Guru Ram Das Institute for Dental Sciences confirmed she had never studied there nor passed the BDS.
Further checks with Indian authorities confirmed that Sharma did not appear on any register in India as a qualified dentist.
In November 2006, Sharma put herself forward for an assessment of eligibility for registration as a dentist, which would have allowed her to gain full registration at the GDC.
To support her application she produced the false copies of qualification certificates from the Sri Guru Ram Das Institute. But the GDC did not grant her full registration, a decision upheld by an independent panel in April 2008, after Sharma challenged it.
When arrested, she denied that she had submitted false qualification certificates, claiming she was unable to produce the original certificates because she had taken them to India to get them verified.
But the Punjab Dental Council confirmed that she was not registered with it and that she had provided the GDC with details relating to a different person.
Sharma used various means to help avoid detection: her placements were fairly short, she took time off sick , changed her shifts to avoid more complicated procedures, and travelled quite frequently to India.
Worried by her apparent lack of skills and general behaviour, two consultants complained about Sharma’s fitness to practice in July 2003 when she worked at Burton Hospital, but the GDC’s Fitness to Practise section found no case to answer.
She later claimed that all the officials at the Sri Guru Ram Das Institute were corrupt, that this was normal in India, and that they were taking revenge because her family had stopped paying them bribes. These allegations were denied and she provided no evidence for them.