‘I can’t fight for Oliver any more - but I can fight for other people’

June 26 2018
‘I can’t fight for Oliver any more - but I can fight for other people’

A MOTHER from Emersons Green whose teenage son died at Southmead Hospital has launched a campaign to change the way people with learning disabilities are treated.

Paula McGowan has set up a Parliamentary petition calling for all healthcare professionals to be given mandatory training in making adjustments for patients with autism and learning disabilities.

Her son Oliver had a bright future ahead of him.  After contracting meningitis as a baby he had epilepsy, a mild learning disability and high-functioning autism but had flourished first at Culverhill School in Yate and then at the National Star College in Gloucestershire, where he was taking a BTEC course to become a ski instructor.

The 18-year-old was also a registered paralympic athlete with Team Bath and had played football for the England development squad.

But a partial seizure in October 2016 saw Oliver taken to Southmead, starting a chain of events that led to his death 20 days later.

After being sedated and restrained, he was given the anti-psychotic drug olanzapine, despite both Oliver and his parents telling doctors he had previously had an adverse reaction to such medication. The drug caused Oliver’s brain to swell, causing massive, irreparable damage and his life support machine was turned off after doctors told the family there was no hope of recovery.

An inquest found his death had been caused by neuroleptic malignant syndrome, a known side effect of olanzapine. Although the assistant coroner ruled that the drug had been correctly prescribed and the NMS could not have been foreseen, Oliver’s family were very disappointed by the conclusion. They believe Oliver would not have died if their warnings over the medication had been heeded and that he may not even have needed to be restrained or sedated had staff had the training to effectively communicate with someone with autism.

Paula, who has worked as a teaching assistant at Blackhorse Primary School, said: “There was no reason for this to have happened.

“We were appalled to learn that so many doctors and nurses have never had training on learning and/or autism disability. We firmly believe this is contributing to avoidable deaths and we are not alone in this thinking; many doctors and nurses are supporting Oliver’s petition.

“Oliver was healthy; he was down the gym every night.

“Nothing held him back. He never complained and he always saw the good in everyone.

“I can’t fight for Oliver anymore but I can fight for other people like Oliver.”

As the Voice went to press the number of supporters for Paula’s petition had passed 15,500. A government response is required after 10,000 signatures but Paula was still waiting for one.

A spokesman for North Bristol NHS Trust, which runs Southmead Hospital, said: “Oliver’s death was incredibly tragic and was difficult for everyone involved.

“As the Coroner concluded, our staff properly prescribed medication in Oliver’s best interests and could not have predicted the side effect he suffered.

“However, autism awareness training is very important and this month we are launching an autism awareness training package for the clinical staff in our Trust.”

Learning disability charity Mencap is backing Paula’s campaign. Chief executive Jan Tregelles said almost a quarter of healthcare professionals had never received training on learning disability.

She said: “Oliver’s family have been through unimaginable pain, yet continue to fight to improve the healthcare people with a learning disability receive. We urge people to read Oliver’s story and sign their important petition.”

Oliver’s death is being investigated as part of the Learning Disabilities Mortality Review Programme, an NHS England project managed by Bristol University looking at inequalities in healthcare.


Paula McGowan’s petition can

be found online at