Mum begs for change after son starves to death in Australian hospital

The hospital has since admitted Stewart Kelly's death was preventable.

A heartbroken mother is calling for change after her autistic son starved to death while receiving treatment in an Aussie hospital.

Ann Jeffrey, 81, said that some 15 months after her adult son Stewart Kelly — who lived with autism and an intellectual disability — died while under the care of staff at Robina Hospital on the Gold Coast, little action has been implemented to ensure a similar event doesn't occur.

The 45-year-old passed away at the facility in August of last year, having starved to death during his 33-day stay. Kelly wasn't critical when he was first admitted, but had suffered weight loss after refusing to eat. He also required psychiatric treatment, which he was allegedly refused over a lack of a paper referral.

Ann Jeffrey and Stewart Kelly.
Ann Jeffrey pleading for change after her adult son Stewart Kelly died in hospital from starvation and dehydration. Source: ACA.

Queensland man starves to death in hospital

Gold Coast Health conceded "there were significant failures in the care provided to Mr Kelly" and that "his death was preventable", A Current Affair reported, adding that Kelly's cause of death was indeed due to starvation and dehydration.

"He was allowed to reach that critical state within the hospital system. How can that be?" Jeffrey asked ACA. "How can someone starve to death in a hospital?"

A spokesperson for Gold Coast Health said that "open disclosure discussions" had since "been held with his [Kelly's] family, and we've offered an unreserved apology for his death".

Investigation into deaths underway

Kelly's death is being investigated by the Office of the Health Ombudsman and it's understood that some hospital staff have been stood down while the process takes place. Though, no single individual has so far been held accountable, nor anyone referred to the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Authority — the body responsible for regulating the conduct of medical staff.

According to an internal review conducted by Robina Hospital, a total of 11 failures were found to have contributed to Kelly's death, with "five lessons learned by staff that will be addressed in future staff training".

Robina Hospital's internal review identified 11 failures in Stewart Kelly's care and five lessons learned by staff which would be addressed with future training.

"I want to know what's been implemented now 15 months later, after I buried my son, what have they done in actual real terms?" Jeffery implored.

Robina Hospital.
Police are currently investigating two more allegedly preventable deaths at Robina Hospital. Source: ACA.

Two more allegedly preventable deaths at Robina Hospital are also being investigated by Queensland Police, after 68-year-old former policeman Kevin Farr was killed by a fellow patient inside the dementia ward, and a month later, an elderly aged care patient — who was allegedly suffering delirium — died after jumping off a balcony.

Jeffery is now calling for a full a coroner's inquiry to uncover what she says is the full extent of hospital failings. "I'm now 81, I would like some answers before I die," she said. "I need to know that something comes of Stewart's death so that it won't happen to somebody again."

Hospital apologises

In a statement, Gold Coast Health offered its "deepest condolences".

"His family has been stepped through the full Root Cause Analysis (RCA) report, and provided a summary of it, including major findings and all recommendations (in the 'Closing the Loop' document)," a spokesperson said.

"The causes of our failures were complex, and we're committed to implementing all the recommendations from the RCA report and to learning the lessons necessary to better support patients who are neuro-diverse or who have a disability."

Do you have a story tip? Email:

You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube.