Mum’s dying – and her nurses put me to shame

By Liz Jones

Last updated at 12:59 PM on 10th July 2011
It's a tragedy when anyone becomes old and infirm, but somehow it seems more shocking when that person was once defined by their physicality, their talent, their elegance. In the news last week was the decision by the Supreme Court to deny an overnight carer for Elaine McDonald, who is now 69 but who was once a prima ballerina. 
She suffered a stroke just over a decade ago and needs help to get to the bathroom. Her local council, Kensington and Chelsea, advised her to use incontinence pads, thereby saving themselves £22,000 a year.
This was the story that shocked me most over the past few days, a story that should exercise David Cameron as much if not more than the phone-hacking scandal. 
In her prime: Scottish Ballet principal ballerina Elaine McDonald performs the Dying Swan from Swan Lake in February 1983
And now: Elaine McDonald at the supreme court as she appealed against Kensington and Chelsea's decision to with support for a night carer.
 Aged 92,(my mother) she has spent a decade bedridden, and is suffering from dementia. She is now dying.
As I drive up the M11 to visit her, still in her own home in Saffron Walden in Essex, I thank the Lord she does not live in Kensington and Chelsea. Her decline over the past few days has been swift. She sleeps, mostly, and has barely eaten in a week. The only liquid she has taken on board has been water, syringed into her mouth. But at her small rented house on Friday, it was like being in the middle of Piccadilly Circus. 

As well as her live-in nurse, a lovely young woman from Latvia who takes a holistic approach to looking after my mum that extends to planting flowers in the garden, there are three uniformed carers a day who come in to help with the heavy lifting and changing.
   My mum comes under the aegis of Uttlesford District Council, which must be peopled by saints. Given that my mum is dying, she is getting palliative care for three months, which is completely, 100 per cent free. The family has in the past had to contribute to the cost of her care, to the tune of about £600 or £700 a month.
I imagine that the amount of nursing is so extreme now, it would be far cheaper to dump my mum in a geriatric ward, but this option has not even been raised by her social worker. (When Mum could talk, she always giggled about having a social worker. ‘It’s as though I’ve been naughty!’ she’d say.)