In the UK, a fake doctor who reportedly hastened a woman’s death after giving her bogus medical advice has escaped jail sentence.

Julie Higgins, 54, has for years claimed to be a surgeon and oncologist at the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, though she has never worked there. In reality, Higgins was a fantasist first aider.

The fake doctor had duped terminally ill Angela Murray, 59, who suffered from pulmonary hypertension and a very rare dry fibrosis of the lungs by giving her false hope of a lung transplant. Higgins told the patient that she could treat her incurable lung condition, saying that she had travelled around the world to find a match.

Fake doctor’s lies believed to hasten death

Following 12 months of deceit, Murray’s family revealed the fraud after discovering Higgins’ medical background. Her family believes that the news caused her to devastate into depression, resulting in her death a month later in October 2016.

Bournemouth Crown Court heard that Higgins who has been diagnosed with a personality disorder met Murray at her regular hairdressers in Poole, Dorset. She told Murray to go nil-by-mouth to prepare for a life-saving heart and lung transplant, claiming she had found suitable organ donors in Germany.

“They met on two occasions and Ms Higgins obtained personal details including her NHS number, and said she would assist her in finding some new lungs,” prosecutor Nicola Reece told the court, stating that it was an ongoing relationship, predominantly through text messaging.

In her texts, Higgins told Murray about her travelling around the world to search for donor organs. She also sent texts claiming she was on an aid mission to Syria, which came under attack.

“She claimed to be badly injured and even offered her lungs if she didn't make it,” said Reece.

It was when Murray’s family started getting suspicious of the increasingly bizarre claims and investigated Higgins’ credentials. The fraud was exposed in September last year.

Impersonating a doctor not for the first time

At the court, Judge Donald Tait said that his hands were tied due to constraints of the Medical Act 1983, as the maximum sentence for a charge of impersonating a doctor was a fine.

He told Higgins, “You created false hope in someone who was seriously ill. You are a manipulative individual and you gained, for some reason, pleasure from pretending to be a medically qualified person when you weren't.”

Higgins admitted pretending to be a medical practitioner and fraud by false representation. Other than a 12-month community order, the fake doctor also received punishment of 20 rehab activity requirement days, 200 hours of unpaid work, a criminal Asbo and a £140 victim surcharge.

She also had a previous conviction of impersonating a doctor in 2007 for tricking her patient out of £700 supposedly to fund an operation.

On the other hand, Higgins said she was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder following her childhood abuse in February and since been having counselling sessions.

Law allows the fake doctor to walk free

As Higgins escaped jail sentence with a criminal behaviour order that bans her from acting as a doctor again, Murray’s brother, Dave Drummond, described her as “evil personified”. He believes Higgins brought Murray’s life to an end prematurely.

According to Drummond, Murray’s health had deteriorated almost immediately after they found out Higgins was a fraud, and her death came three to four weeks later.

He said, "We all got suckered into it. I thought it was too good to be true, but we didn't want to give up hope. She had built Angela's hopes up so much and basically said 'I'm the only person who can give you the lungs'.”

“Julie Higgins is evil personified and she is free to walk the streets. We understand the judge's position, he went as far as he could, but the law is inadequate,” he added.

Murray's husband Gregory, 59, said, “She has got away with it scot-free. I'm devastated and I worry she can just do it to someone else now.” MIMS

Read more:
Clinic employed fake doctor that falsely diagnosed patients with Alzheimer’s
The man who treated patients with a fraudulent degree and a fake name
The Imposter Syndrome: What it is and how it can be treated