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When deaths go wrong. Lessons learnt from avoidable deaths of people with learning disabilities or autism


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People with learning disabilities are at risk of dying too young, and dying unnecessarily. The Learning Disability Mortality Review (LeDeR) in England has found that too often, those deaths are a result of failings within health and social care provision. Reflecting on this has never been more important – during the pandemic, the inequalities that many people with learning disabilities face have been put into stark focus. Today we focus on the stories of Oliver’s and Richard's deaths, and on what lessons we can all learn from this.

Oliver McGowan died in 2016. He was 18 years old. Oliver had mild learning disabilities and autism. A recent independent LeDeR review concluded Oliver’s death was avoidable. Richard Handley died in 2012 at the age of 33, from complications arising from constipation. He had Down syndrome and mental health problems. The inquest into his death concluded that their had been “gross failures” in his care and treatment.

Paula McGowan and Sheila Handley share the stories of their sons’ lives, and of the healthcare failings that contributed to their deaths. Oliver’s and Richard’s stories are profoundly important and profoundly moving.


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