'Missed opportunities' to save man who died after 10kg of faeces removed from body

Caroline Mortimer, Jennifer Cockerell
Richard Handley had to have 10kg of faeces removed from his bowels: PA/Hodge, Jones and Allen

A coroner has concluded gross failures by a Suffolk hospital contributed to the death of a man whose severe constipation meant he had to have 10kg of faeces removed from his body.

Richard Handley, 33, who had Downs Syndrome and was from Lowestoft, died from a cardiac arrest in November 2012.

A post-mortem examination found that his bronchi – near the entrance of the lungs – and nasal passages contained gastric contents and it was likely that he had choked on his vomit due to a bowel obstruction, the law firm acting for his family said.

It said the inquest found that due to a lack of careful monitoring of his condition, he developed severe constipation and his abdomen became so distended he had to have surgery to remove the build up of faeces.

Recording a narrative conclusion, senior coroner for Suffolk, Peter Dean, made a finding of gross failure to the actions of Ipswich Hospital.

The inquest heard the hospital did not respond appropriately to Mr Handley's increased Modified Early Warning Score (MEWS), designed to flag any deteriorating changes in a patient's condition.

Changes to Mr Handley's diet and the decreased monitoring of his bowel movements at his care home also contributed to his worsening constipation and ultimately led to his death, law firm Hodge Jones & Allen said.

Mr Handley, who lived with his family until he went to live in the care home at the age of 19, was suspected of suffering from Hirschsprung's disease, a condition which causes chronic constipation.

This meant that part of his care involved careful monitoring of his diet and bowel movements, Ipswich Coroners' Court heard.

In 2010 the status of the care home changed, and it appeared that, unknown to his family, the knowledge of his specific care needs was lost and he went on to develop severe constipation.

Mr Handley's mother, Sheila Handley, said: "Given the evidence we've heard in court, and the gross failures and missed opportunities noted, we are profoundly disappointed that the coroner felt unable to make a finding of neglect.

"The coroner did, however, recognise that without our diligence and persistence many of the reviews into Richard's death would not have occurred and the inquest would not have been able to explore the extent of the failings in his care.

"Richard was wholly reliant on health and social care services to exist, and now he doesn't. We will now take time to digest what we've heard today and consider next steps with our lawyer."

Additional reporting by PA

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