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Biographical entry Higgins, Thomas Twistington (1887 - 1966)

OBE 1919; MRCS 1909; FRCS 1912; MB BS Manchester 1909.

19 November 1887
Bolton, Lancashire
3 July 1966
Paediatric surgeon


Thomas Twistington Higgins was born on 19 November 1887 in Bolton, Lancashire, his father having been Vicar of Congleton. He went to school at Pocklington in East Yorkshire, and then on an entrance scholarship to Manchester University where he graduated MB, ChB in 1909 with distinctions in medicine, forensic medicine, and midwifery. After house appointments in Manchester he came to London in 1911 to become house surgeon at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street. He took the Fellowship in 1912, and during the first world war he served as a surgical specialist with the RAMC in France, was mentioned in despatches, and appointed OBE in 1919.

On demobilization he returned to Great Ormond Street as surgeon, and though he later became attached to the Royal Northern and other hospitals on the outskirts of London, his professional interests were centred upon paediatric surgery. Paediatric medicine had long been established as a specialty, but it was largely due to Higgins that the surgery of children also became recognized as a special branch. Later he devoted particular attention to genito-urinary work, and his pioneer efforts in the development of special techniques and instruments led to the establishment of a new department of the hospital. He was also distinguished for his gentle, superb skill in tonsillectomy, and this inspired several young surgeons to emulate his example, and so laid the foundation of the ear, nose and throat department.

During the second world war he moved with his family to Northwood, a district with which he had been familiar through his earlier attachment to the local hospital, and the general practitioners in the neighbourhood greatly appreciated having him more readily available for consultation over their surgical problems. His kindness and courtesy were extended to patients and doctors alike, and were a great asset to him as a member of the Court of Examiners of the Royal College of Surgeons. It is understandable that a man of his temperament would not relish the wrangles of medical politics; and though he was deeply interested in the welfare of Great Ormond Street, and the creation of the Institute of Child Health was one of his dreams, the realization of the ideal was left to the organizing ability of his colleague Alan Moncrieff. He was an authority on the history of the hospital and wrote a delightful little book about it which was published in 1952, the hospital's centenary year.

He married a Scottish nurse and they had two sons, both of whom became doctors, and four daughters, one of whom went in for a nursing career and another for medicine. Thomas Twistington or "Twist" as he was known to many of his colleagues, will long be remembered as an examplary practitioner of the art of surgery in general, and of paediatric surgery in particular. He retired to Great Mongeham, near Deal, and died, aged 78, on 3 July 1966.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1966, 2, 177; Lancet 1966, 2, 171].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England