UK: Surgeon Banned From Practicing After Operating On Wrong Organs

Jack Hadfield

A London doctor has been struck off the register after performing surgery on the wrong organs of multiple patients and then attempting to cover up her malpractice.

Dr. Claudia Martinez Higueros was removed from the general medical register in April this year, after two botched surgeries at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. In December of 2019, the Madrid-trained physician was found to have performed drainage on the right lung on a patient, when she was meant to biopsy their left lung, and in February 2020, she biopsied the right kidney of another patient when she was supposed to biopsy the left.

In both instances, the General Medical Council’s (GMC) disciplinary panel found Martinez Higueros to have “acted dishonestly,” and tried to cover up her mistakes afterwards.

In the 2019 case, she first blamed a junior colleague and the hospital’s record keeping system, before changing her story to say the procedure of the right lung was done for medical reasons. In the 2020 case, she changed medical records after being confronted by her colleagues three weeks later to reflect the fact she had supposedly operated on the “correct” kidney, and then put the blame on two other doctors who were not in the operating room at the time.

“Dr. Martinez Higueros does not consider in any detail the potential impact of her actions and dishonesty on Patients A and B and on the standing of her colleagues and the medical profession,” the GMC panel concluded in their report. “Dr. Martinez Higueros’ reflections are silent on how she would prevent a similar situation arising again and the mechanisms she has in place to ensure there is no repetition.”

According to the most recent statistics, foreign-trained doctors in the UK comprise 72% of those struck off the register by the GMC. From 1996 to 2013, doctors that had been trained outside of the UK saw significantly higher rates of performance assessments, with doctors who were trained in Bangladesh seeing the greatest numbers.

Despite this, news reports have suggested that fewer foreign-trained doctors having a lawyer at their panel hearings is to blame for their higher rates of being removed from practice, and have also attributed the phenomenon to racism.

In 2022, the GMC pledged to set targets to “eliminate disproportionate complaints from employers about ethnic minority doctors” by 2026, and to “eradicate disadvantage and discrimination in medical education and training by 2031.”

Within a year, the GMC proudly declared that the gap of fitness to practice referrals between white and ethnic minority doctors was down.

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