Police on Wednesday arrested an Arab who had posed as a doctor at Sheba Hospital in Tel Aviv, and managed to carry out three hundred procedures on patients over a period of months before getting caught. The “doctor,” Hilal Azzaziya, is being questioned. A court extended his remand until at least next Sunday.
The hospital has opened an investigation to determine whether any of the procedures or the advice he gave had any lasting damage. The hospital’s attorneys are reviewing cases to determine if there is any liability involved, and are preparing for a wave of lawsuits.
Police said that the investigation has been going for weeks, and entailed questioning dozens of hospital employees. Police are also questioning patients who were treated by Azzaziya. In a statement, Sheba said that the matter “was being investigated by police, and we are cooperating fully.”
Suspicions were raised among staff who had sought out the “doctor’s” opinions on various patient-related matters. Although Azzaziya was able to discuss some of the cases intelligently, there were many instances in which he displayed ignorance of basic medical issues. According to hospital records, Azzaziya had worked at the hospital as an orderly when he was a medical student. He was fired, but returned under an assumed name – this time with the title “doctor” in front of it – and began to work as a doctor. The hospital did not say if he was on the payroll during the period of his “employment.”
Azzaziya’s “specialty” was treating patients who had been admitted to the emergency room and referred to hospital departments for further treatment. Doctors who followed up on those patients found out that they had been treated, although no record of their treatment could be found. Eventually, staff traced the incidents to Azzaziya, and filed a complaint with police.
According to Azzaziya’s attorney, the courts should take into consideration the fact that he was never actually fired. “This is a young man without a criminal past,” said Merav Ben-Shabbat, a public defender who is representing Azzaziya. “He was a student employee at the hospital, and he claims he was never officially fired. He never claimed to be an employee, but worked as a volunteer. Everything he did was in accordance with medical advice and under the supervision of senior staff. He did not operate on anyone but did simple procedures like taking blood pressure.”