20 April saw the conclusion of a five-day inquest into the sad and untimely death of Oliver McGowan, an autistic teenager who also had epilepsy and cerebral palsy. 

Oliver was admitted to Southmead Hospital in October 2016, after suffering a seizure, and later died following complications in his care.

According to media reports, the coroner said that Oliver died after being given Olanzapine and contracting neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS) - a rare side-effect of the drug. Oliver’s family said they repeatedly told doctors that on no account should he be given anti-psychotic medication like this as he had reacted badly to it in the past. But the coroner concluded the drug had been properly prescribed, and that it could not have been predicted that Oliver would develop NMS.

This Guardian article includes comprehensive quotes from Oliver’s parents, as well as the response from the hospital trust that was responsible for his care.

This is an incredibly distressing case for everyone involved. Our thoughts are with Oliver’s family who have fought bravely to make sure we all learn from what happened and prevent other autistic people from dying prematurely.

Although we don’t know the full details of the case, the discussion around it has raised issues around the appropriate prescription of anti-psychotic drugs to autistic people.This is often an issue that’s talked about in terms of people with a learning disability yet it’s vital that we also recognise the unique experiences and support needs of autistic people.

Autistic people and families are experts in their own autism yet we continue to hear stories about professionals not listening. This needs to change and improving knowledge of autism across health and social care staff is an important first step.

Oliver’s death is a tragedy. We must all do all we can to give other autistic people the understanding and support they so desperately need, so we can make sure nothing like this ever happens again.

We are writing to the hospital trust involved to ask for clarification about the precise steps they are taking to improve the care and support for autistic people in their care.


This news story has been updated based on additional information received after we published the original story.