Monday, 30 November -0001

Don't leave me this way

The low standard of care her mother, the actress Dame Dorothy Tutin, received in hospital so shocked Amanda Waring that she started campaigning for older people

Written by Amanda Waring

I come from an acting dynasty, but being chosen to play the part of Gigi in the West End at the age of 19 did not compare to the joy I felt at sharing the stage with my mother, the Shakespearean actress Dame Dorothy Tutin, and my father, Derek Waring, star of TV series Z Cars. However, it was when we were performing in the Bahamas in a revue I had written and directed that Mama, aged 70, collapsed. Tests revealed that she had leukaemia. I held Mama’s hand as she listened to the diagnosis and prepared herself for treatment in hospital.

As a family, we needed to trust that her recovery was in the hands of experts. However the reality of the care she received shocked me to the core. It is the reason why I have become such a passionate campaigner for older people and written The Heart Of Care to propose ways that could transform how we deliver care.

While awaiting treatment in hospital my mother felt like a caged animal. Procedures were given roughly by demoralised staff who barely even made eye contact with her. She was dismissed at every turn. I could not bear to see the devastating effect this had on my mother’s mind, body and spirit. So I stood in my doctor’s doorway and refused to move unless he promised that my mother would be transferred to another hospital where I felt she would be treated with respect. She needed to be treated as the person she was inside and not seen as a series of symptoms. It was the right decision. The staff in the next hospital were friendly and communicative and Mama’s spirits rose, which helped her to face her gruelling treatment.

While in remission she lived to see the birth of my son. I was blessed to hear her read at my brother’s wedding and to share in her joy at receiving her Damehood from the Queen. I watched Mama, frail but beautiful, receive this honour at Buckingham Palace and I could see how tired she was, how vulnerable she looked. I felt haunted by the memory of the undignified care that she and so many older people have to endure. They were all someone’s mother or father and should not have been left crying out for assistance, for food left out of reach, left in pain, robbed of their dignity.

Six months later Mama died peacefully under the care of Macmillan nurses. As I grieved I felt compelled to act to change attitudes – to start a crusade to ensure that older people were treated with kindness and compassion and to demonstrate the effect of thoughtless and abusive behaviour. I decided to make a short, 10-minute film, What Do You See? that would voice the elder patient’s perspective and be a reminder to care professionals that they need to see beyond the age or disability of a person. I asked a family friend, Virginia McKenna, if she would play the part of an elderly stroke victim who makes a silent but heartfelt plea for her carers to ‘Look closer… see… me’.

I was thrilled when she agreed and the poignancy of the shoot was enhanced by the fact that I filmed in the hospital where Mama died, the King Edward VII in Midhurst.

I had sold my flat to make this film. Some people thought I was mad and reckless to do this, but the film and the reason behind making it were so important to me that it had to be made. I made What Do You See? in memory of Mama out of love, desperation and a conviction that it would make a difference.

I have been so rewarded and overwhelmed by the incredible response my film has received. I now show it at conferences around the world and in the media, and it has helped to transform attitudes and behaviour. I am so grateful to the millions who use it for training in care homes, hospitals, universities, schools and for staff inductions. The success of the film has led to me being involved at the start of the Dignity In Care campaign. I sit on the board of the Dignity Council, which now has 38,000 members, and I have continued to make more films that promote better elder and end-of-life care.

Amanda Waring’s book, The Heart Of Care, is published by Souvenir Press, priced £15. Her film on dementia should be completed by the end of this year. In the interim you can catch Amanda getting covered in melted chocolate in her one-woman show For The Love Of Chocolate at the Ashbourne festival in July. For further details, visit www.amandawaring.com

For more about the Dignity In Care network: www.dignityincare.org.uk



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