Elderly and disabled people who live in care homes are treated like ‘brutes or malfunctioning machines’, Booker Prize-winning novelist Hilary Mantel has warned. The Wolf Hall author, who was awarded a second Man Booker Prize in October for Bring Up The Bodies, said that even those in the best homes were talked down to by staff in ‘the doting tones we use with babies’.
She made the comments after helping to find a care home place for a disabled friend who needed round-the-clock care.
‘Nobody should place the whole blame on scarcity of resources,’ the 60-year-old said. ‘That would be too complacent.
‘All the money in the world cannot remedy failure of imagination.’
She told the Sunday Times Magazine it was not just cases where residents were ‘grossly violated’ that were important, adding: ‘With old age and disability it is the daily, unspectacular reality that poses a challenge.’
The novelist was horrified by the institutions she saw, which she said were either ‘excruciatingly expensive’ or ‘utterly depressing’
‘We didn’t see anywhere dirty, but we saw places that were utterly depressing,’ she said.
‘Behind august frontages, Edwardian houses degenerated into tiny passages, narrowed further by dumped food trolleys and filing cabinets.
‘Manicured gardens and coastal views – all costed out in the monthly bill – were accessible only to visitors and the spryest of residents, while those in wheelchairs could gaze at the wall,’ she said.
In one home, they saw a ‘wet room’ containing a mop, bucket and disinfectant. ‘This display said, plainly, ‘It would be easier if we just hosed you down,’ ”’said Mantel.
Mrs Mantel eventually found a home that seemed suitable but her friend was dealt with so appallingly that staff had to be reminded she was a ‘resident not a prisoner’.
But the author, who worked in a geriatric hospital in the 1970s, admitted that standards were far higher now than in that era, when institutions were ‘heart-rending’.