Oliver McGowan: Autistic teen’s death in hospital was ‘potentially avoidable’, review finds

An autistic teenager’s death in an NHS hospital was “potentially avoidable”, according to an independent review.

Oliver McGowan died at Southmead Hospital in Bristol in November 2016 after being given anti-psychotic medication.

The 18-year-old was being treated for a seizure when he was prescribed Olanzapine – his parents claim it was given against their wishes.

Referring to the review’s conclusion, his father, Tom McGowan, said: “It’s almost a bittersweet feeling.

“To see it in black and white now on paper is a relief, but all it is is confirming what we already knew.

“The bottom line is Oliver’s gone, and really the nucleus of our family has been taken away. That scar will never heal.”

Oliver’s parents claim hospital staff had letters from his doctors saying he was not mentally ill and was particularly sensitive to anti-psychotic medication.

After he was given the drug, his temperature rose and he developed symptoms of Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome (NMS), causing his brain to swell.

He died in intensive care.

“To watch your child die the most unpeaceful of deaths was horrific”, Oliver’s mother Paula McGowan told Sky News.

“And do you know what’s worse? Is that it could have been prevented. It should never have happened. 18-year-old teenage boys fit and healthy don’t walk into a hospital and come out in a box.”

In 2018, an inquest ruled the drug was a “significant factor” in Oliver’s death but that it had been properly prescribed.

NHS England announced a learning disability mortality review (LeDeR) into his death last year.

Oliver’s parents claim the finding that his death was “potentially avoidable” was removed from an earlier report.

Ms McGowan said: “When you do these reviews you have to look through all the hospital notes. What you’re reading is the process of your child’s abuse and his death. You read that over and over again. It’s just horrendous.”

Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Care Commissioning Group said in a statement: “It remains a deep source of regret to us that the McGowan family’s experience of LeDeR was so poor.

“In the three years since Oliver’s review was completed we have significantly improved our processes and will continue to do so on an ongoing basis.

“Families are now central to LeDeR from the outset of each review. We have established a service user forum to ensure that the voices of people with learning disability and autism sit at the heart of our process.”

Avon and Somerset Police launched a criminal inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Oliver’s death earlier this year.

His parents are now pushing for another inquest, in the hope that it will help prevent other people with a learning disability from suffering the same fate as their son.

Mr McGowan said: “We haven’t even really had a chance to grieve as a family and we are approaching the four year anniversary.

“That’s the sad reality of this. We are trying to get lessons identified and hopefully then learnt. But why do we have to work so hard?”

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