Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search


Letter from Elsewhere: Mrs Williams

Letter from Elsewhere - By Anne Else

Mrs Williams

Elderly woman loses home help
The Press, 7/10/2009

Home help for elderly under attack
Press release from Jim Anderton, 7/10/2009

“When my office contacted the CDHB, it was told that ‘families will need to take more responsibility for their elderly parents...If old people can’t go out shopping, there’s always on-line shopping; and if they can’t manage the cleaning they can just clean one room a day with a carpet sweeper.’”
Fears for elderly as home-care hours cut
Otago Daily Times, 22/10/2009

Elderly lose home help after SCDHB reviews
Timaru Herald, 15/12/2009

New assessment cuts home help for 1200 elderly
The Press, 27/01/2010

Phone assessments result in less aid
Dominion Post, 30/01/2010

One woman, in her 80s, was asked if she could move around all right and, when she said she found it difficult to hang out washing, was told to get her son to make a box for her to stand on. [The Grey Power spokesman said] “They did not realise she was reliant on a walker and a wheelchair.”


Mrs Williams was reading the paper. It was a bit of a business now – she had to use a magnifying glass, as well as her glasses – but she managed.

Out in the hall, the phone rang. By the time Mrs Williams got to it, the woman on the other end sounded quite cross.

“Oh, you are home”, she said. “I was just going to hang up!”

“I’m sorry”, said Mrs Williams, “it does take me a long time. You see, I’m – ”

“Well, never mind”, said the woman. “I’m calling on behalf of the District Health Board.”

“Can you just wait a minute while I sit down? I’m – ”

“It won’t take long, and I do have 29 more people to call this morning. I just need to ask you a few questions.”

By this time Mrs Williams had managed to sit down, so she said “Yes, I’m ready now.”

“Good. Now, are you mobile? I suppose you must be, since you managed to get to the phone.”

“Yes, I can move around again now, I – ”

“Great. So are you able to push a carpet sweeper? So much easier to manage than a vacuum cleaner.”

“A carpet sweeper? I haven’t had one of those for a long time…”

“No, no, but if you did have one, could you push it?”

“Er – well, I suppose I might be – ”

“Excellent. One room a week, that’s the secret. What about washing? Do you have a washing machine?”

“Yes, and a dryer.”

“Oh really? But I see your home help has been hanging the clothes out for you.”

“Well, with the cost of electricity, I don’t – ”

“So no need to have someone do that, is there, you can just pop it all straight from one machine to the other. Now, what about the kitchen? Do you use it much?”

“I’m afraid I can’t manage much in the way of cooking now – I have one of those Ezimeals at lunchtime and – ”

“Marvellous, aren’t they – no fuss, no mess – and your kitchen hardly needs cleaning at all, does it! So that just leaves the bathroom – I assume you do have only the one?”

“Yes, but you know, the cleaning - I’m afraid – oh, this is very embarrassing. But you see, I do sometimes have trouble using the toilet properly and it – well – ”

“Quick flick round with the loo brush takes care of that, though, eh. But I would think cleaning the shower is probably a bit beyond you!” And she made a kind of honking noise that Mrs Williams realised was laughter.

“Right, well, I think I’ve got the picture. I’ll put you down for an hour a fortnight, that should cover it. We’ll be in touch again when that’s been approved. I know you’re used to having an hour and a half a week, but obviously you don’t really need all that. Still, you’re lucky, you know, lots of people aren’t getting anything at all. Bye for now!” And she hung up.

Mrs Williams put the phone back, heaved herself up from the not very comfortable seat of her walker, carefully manoeuvered it around so she could reach the handles, and pushed her way slowly over to her chair by the window, wincing as one of her heavily bandaged legs caught the corner of the couch.

Her hand shook more than usual as she picked up the cup of tea her neighbour had made for her when she dropped in half an hour ago. It was still warm enough to be comforting.

Two months later she slipped on the grimy bathroom floor, broke her hip and had to be moved to a rest home. They had trouble finding her a bed – there had been a surge in demand lately, and the health board was trying to work out why, because costs were going through the roof.

“Oh well,” said the CEO wearily to his sidekick, a smart young woman with a shiny new public policy MA, “I suppose we’ll just have to cut back somewhere else.”

She looked thoughtful. “We’ve done home help, not much fat there – what about personal care? Showering and all that?”

“Great idea. Really, once a week should be enough – it’s not as if the old dears were going to the gym every day!” And they both laughed.


- Anne Else is a Wellington writer and social commentator. Her occasional column will typically appear on a Monday. You can subscribe to receive Letter From Elsewhere by email when it appears via the Free My Scoop News-By-Email Service. Anne blogs at

© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Binoy Kampmark: Foreseeable Risk: Omicron Makes Its Viral Debut
It has been written about more times than any care to remember. Pliny the Elder, that old cheek, told us that Africa always tended to bring forth something new: Semper aliquid novi Africam adferre. The suggestion was directed to hybrid animals, but in the weird pandemic wonderland that is COVID-19, all continents now find themselves bringing forth their types, making their contributions. It just so happens that it’s southern Africa’s turn... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Totalitarian Cyber-Creep: Mark Zuckerberg In The Metaverse

Never leave matters of maturity to the Peter Panners of Silicon Valley. At their most benign, they are easily dismissed as potty and keyboard mad. At their worst, their fantasies assume the noxious, demonic forms that reduce all users of their technology to units of information and flashes of data... More>>

Keith Rankin: 'Influenza' Pandemics In New Zealand's Past
On Tuesday (16 Nov) I was concerned to hear this story on RNZ's Checkpoint (National distances itself from ex-MP after video with discredited academic). My concern here is not particularly with the "discredited academic", although no academic should suffer this kind of casual public slur. (Should we go further and call Simon Thornley, the academic slurred, a 'trailing epidemiologist'? In contrast to the epithet 'leading epidemiologist', as applied to Rod Jackson in this story from Newshub.) Academics should parley through argument, not insult... More>>

Gasbagging In Glasgow: COP26 And Phasing Down Coal

Words can provide sharp traps, fettering language and caging definitions. They can also speak to freedom of action and permissiveness. At COP26, that permissiveness was all the more present in the haggling ahead of what would become the Glasgow Climate Pact... More>>

Globetrotter: Why Julian Assange’s Inhumane Prosecution Imperils Justice For Us All

When I first saw Julian Assange in Belmarsh prison, in 2019, shortly after he had been dragged from his refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy, he said, “I think I am losing my mind.”
He was gaunt and emaciated, his eyes hollow and the thinness of his arms was emphasized by a yellow identifying cloth tied around his left arm... More>>

Dunne Speaks: Labour's High Water Mark
If I were still a member of the Labour Party I would be feeling a little concerned after this week’s Colmar Brunton public opinion poll. Not because the poll suggested Labour is going to lose office any time soon – it did not – nor because it showed other parties doing better – they are not... More>>