Like Eileen Shepherd, I was appalled at the story of Elaine McDonald, who lost a supreme court appeal against the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s decision to withdraw the night-time care that enabled her to use the toilet.
Instead Ms McDonald has been told to use incontinence pads – even though she has mobility problems rather than incontinence.
Of course it is dreadful that a woman who is not incontinent should be condemned to lying in her own waste throughout the night. Where is the dignity in that? But something else also angered me about the story.
Ms McDonald is a celebrated former ballerina with the Scottish Ballet, and received an OBE in 1983.
I know this, and a whole lot more, about her because her case was covered extensively across the media. From the BBC and the Guardian to the Daily Mirror and Daily Mail, the story was given huge prominence, particularly online. But the stories focused on Ms McDonald alone, and made much of her distinguished career and honour.
What about the many other people who may be affected by this decision? Councils are desperately looking for ways to save money and have just been given a clear message. It’s OK to stop funding night-time visits to people who need help to use the toilet.
Charities commenting on the case pointed out that the court decision had wider implications for some of society’s most vulnerable people. Michelle Mitchell from Age UK called the decision shameful and said it “opens the door to warehousing older people in their own homes without regard to their quality of life”. However, her comments and those from other charities came towards the end of the BBC’s and Guardian’s stories and were ignored by the Mirror and the Mail.
As far as the media are concerned the story is interesting primarily because Ms McDonald is, to quote the Mail “a once beautiful and gifted former ballerina”. Surely the real story is that tens, if not hundred, of thousands of older and disabled people may now be expected to lie in urine and faeces until their daytime carers arrive?
You don’t have to be a prima ballerina to deserve a little dignity.