Mother of 33-year-old Lowestoft man tells inquest she believes his death was ‘wholly preventable’

Richard Handley. Picture: SUPPLIED BY THE FAMILY

Richard Handley. Picture: SUPPLIED BY THE FAMILY - Credit: Archant

The mother of a man with Down’s Syndrome who died at the age of just 33 says she believes her son’s death was ‘wholly preventable’, an inquest has heard.

Richard Handley, from Lowestoft, died at Ipswich Hospital’s accident and emergency department on November 17, 2012, from complications due to a bowel obstruction.

His mother Sheila Handley told the inquest Richard had suffered with life-long problems with constipation and that it was suspected he had Hirschprungs Disease, a congenital condition that affects around 10% of people with Downs Syndrome.

At the age of 18, Richard developed mental health problems and psychosis and his behaviour became more erratic and aggressive. In September 1999, Richard went to live at Bond Meadows Care Home in Lowestoft, run by the United Response.

A detailed care plan was created, with input from his family, which included regular assessments of Richard’s dietary needs and monitoring of when he went to the toilet, including advice from his family on how to help him to relax.

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However, Mrs Handley said the status of the care home changed to ‘supported living’ in 2010 and that, unknown to her and the rest of the family, his care plan was lost and his monitoring slipped.

“As far as I was aware he was continuing to maintain his healthy diet plan at Bond Meadows,” she said.

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Mrs Handley said she met with the manager of Bond Meadows in early 2011.

She said: “At the meeting they explained as Richard is now in supported living he had the same right as anyone else to make unwise choices and to eat healthily. I was shocked, very worried and concerned the staff didn’t understand the importance of Richard maintaining a healthy diet.”

On November 12, 2012, it was discovered Richard has a distended colon and he was admitted to Ipswich Hospital.

An x-ray revealed he had severe constipation requiring surgery to remove 10kg of faecal matter.

He died two days later.

The inquest also heard from pathologist Dr Jason Wong.

He said at the time of Mr Handley’s death his colon was ‘massively distended’ and had stretched to 18cm in diameter.

Dr Wong said the maximum you would usually see is 4cm.

At today’s inquest, Mers Handley said her son had an ‘engaging, friendly and mischievous personality’.

She said Richard was ‘in the midst of whatever was happening in the family’ and had a ‘have a go’ attitude,

“So many happy moments of his childhood spring to mind,” she said. “Slides, swings, climbing frames, swimming, go-Karts, farm visits, theme parks, Playmobile and hanging out with the family.”

She said she hoped his inquest would help protect people with mental health problems and learning difficulties in the future.

“Richard was a very much-loved member of the family and his death has left a void that can never be filled, she said.

“The inquest is very important to the family in helping us grieve. In fully understanding what happened to Richard and being reassured that learning and changes will take place, we hope to find peace.”

The inquest continues.

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