THE devoted parents of a Kendal man who died following a number of failings at an NHS hospital have vowed to continue their fight for justice in their son's name.

Mark Stuart, who was autistic, was 22 when he tragically died of a cardiac arrest after spending five agonising days at the Royal Blackburn Hospital in 2015.

Despite an investigation and the publication of an independent report four years on, Mark's parents Richard, 62, and Janet, 58, are still seeking answers from the hospital.

In October 2014 Mark developed problems with his digestive system and suffered from an inflamed pancreas and was in and out of the Royal Lancaster Infirmary.

In that same year Mark had an operation to have a stoma so that waste could leave his body more easily. However, this flared up when it was reported that food seemed to leave his body undigested.

The operation was reversed which led to his bowel becoming blocked.

He began to noticeably lose weight and in the six months leading to his death Mark had lost seven stone.

On Monday, November 9, 2015, his mother rushed him to the Royal Blackburn Hospital. It was not the family's local hospital but since Mark had a planned appointment with a specialist doctor Mrs Stuart chose to take him there.

The couple, who would spend 24 hours a day by his side and sleep on plastic chairs, told The Westmorland Gazette that their son had been left to starve and was dehydrated while waiting for an operation. The independent report said that Mark did not receive any nutritional input while in hospital.

Five days later his parents left the hospital with his belongings but without him by their side. Mark died on Friday, November 13, from a cardiac arrest, just minutes before his delayed operation.

This month marks four years since Mr and Mrs Stuart's son died and every day they say they still relive the horrific moments which led to Mark's death.

Mrs Stuart said she would always remember Mark as a 'big friendly giant', who loved swimming in the lakes, especially in Windermere.

"He lost his confidence after he was bullied at school," she said. "But he was finally starting to get his confidence back and making his first friends.

"But now we will never get the chance to see his confidence grow back."

Just like his father, Mark was autistic and highly intelligent but he also had an incredible memory.

"He loved television, he especially loved to watch episodes of Coronation Street," said Richard.

"We have a box of photographs and Mark used to be able to tell you exactly when and where that photo was taken and what we ate that day."

When Mr and Mrs Stuart went to the hospital to collect the death certificate they learned that the coroner had decided not to carry out a post-mortem examination after the document stated that their son died of a 'natural cause'.

That is when they began to raise questions.

The couple requested an inquest, which took place two years after the 22-year-old's death, and the verdict was that Mark died of a 'natural but preventable' death.

Mrs Stuart then turned to South Lakes MP Tim Farron for help as they believed questions were still not being answered.

"I can’t even begin to imagine the pain and the hurt that Richard and Janet have experienced these past few years," said Mr Farron.

"It’s been an honour to stand alongside them as they fought so bravely to find out the truth and get justice for Mark.

“It’s important that we force an independent review to ensure that other families don’t have to go through the same experience and that the NHS keep to their duty of candour.”

After Mr Farron met with the then Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt an independent report was ordered.

The investigation was carried out by a company called Verita.

The report, which was published in 2018, confirmed that there had been a 'catalogue' of serious failings at the Blackburn hospital but Mr and Mrs Stuart believe the investigation had failed to get to the bottom of who was responsible for their son, who made the key decisions, why other patients were prioritised over him and why nobody saw how desperately ill he was until it was just too late.

Among some of the errors the report highlighted was that "there was a fundamental failure to provide Mark with consistent nursing care at a most basic level at times," and there was a "failure in communication between hospital staff, Mark and his family" "IV fluid and electrolyte management were poor" and there was "incorrect information entered," which showed that Mark was at "low risk of being malnourished" when it "was obvious that he was acutely ill".

The report also stated that there was "lack of recognition by nursing staff that Mark was starting to deteriorate overnight" and there was an "apparent lack of understanding, empathy and compassion shown by the nursing staff on duty about how Mark and his father might have felt when Mark was in pain and frightened."

East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, which oversees the Royal Blackburn Hospital, has apologised unreservedly to the family for the "failings" in Mark's care.

“The circumstances surrounding Mark’s death in 2015 have been fully considered at a public inquest, as well as several independent and internal investigations," said a hospitals trust statement.

"We have met with the family on a number of occasions, shared the findings of the investigations and assured them of changes we have made as a result of this incident.

"We have never sought to cover anything up. Indeed the independent external investigation commented on the openness and transparency of the Trust.

“However, we fully understand that neither our apology nor the changes made, will adequately address the feelings of Mark’s devastated family.”

For Mark's family however the fight is far from over.

"We're fighting for justice and we're fighting in Mark's name," said Mr Stuart. "We are chasing for another inquest and we want a prosecution, that's our mission."

Mrs Stuart described the past four years as a nightmare but said their son was "worth fighting for".

"There wasn't just one mistake, there was a catalogue of appalling errors," she said. "We have had to drag answers out of the hospital and there is still a lot that remain unanswered."

NHS investigators in north west England have offered to meet the Stuarts. But the couple say they have been waiting since August to hear when the meeting will take place.