Government agrees to act on mum's campaign to change autism treatment

October 02 2018
Government agrees to act on mum's campaign to change autism treatment

A MOTHER’S campaign to change the way people with learning disabilities are treated by doctors and nurses has taken a giant leap forward, after the Government agreed to take action.

Paula McGowan’s teenage son Oliver died at Southmead Hospital from the side effects of an anti-psychotic drug he was given, despite staff being warned he had previously had an adverse reaction.

Determined to ensure lessons were learned, Paula, from Emersons Green, set up a Parliamentary petition calling for all healthcare professionals to be given mandatory training in making adjustments for patients, like Oliver, with autism and learning disabilities.

Around 50,000 people have supported the online petition and the Government has now launched a consultation with the aim of improving training for NHS staff.

Its response is also in the light of an official report which found that on average, men with learning disabilities died 23 years and women 29 years before their counterparts in the general population, often for “entirely avoidable” reasons.

Paula met with care minister Caroline Dinenage and senior NHS England leaders in Westminster just before the Government announced its new consultation, while Health Secretary Matt Hancock also sent her a personal message.

She described the development as “very promising” but says she is waiting “with bated breath” to see what the basic training will look like and how effective it will be.

Paula said she was particularly keen to ensure doctors and nurses were given face-to-face training from student level onwards, before they started to make daily life-and-death decisions.

She said: “I came away from that meeting incredibly positive and reassured that Caroline Dinenage is passionate about people who have got autism and learning disabilities, and will make effective changes.

“I achieved what I set out to achieve. I’ve managed to get to the people I needed to get to.”

Paula has asked that Oliver’s story be used as a case study in any training programme resulting from the consultation.

Announcing the consultation, Ms Dinenage said: “Every person with a learning disability must receive the same high-quality care you and I would expect.

"For too long many people with learning disabilities have had their lives tragically cut short, in part because of a lack of understanding about their needs. This must end.

“We will consult on expanding learning disability awareness training so that health and care staff are better equipped to provide compassionate and informed care. 

"Support will be improved to help enhance the lives of people with learning disabilities across the country – anything less is unacceptable.”

Paula’s petition can be found at

Earlier this year North Bristol NHS Trust, which runs Southmead Hospital, launched a new autism awareness training programme for clinical staff. The trust insists its staff acted in Oliver’s best interests and could not have predicted the side effect he suffered.