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Gifting back memories to bereaved families

Presenting the bereavement bags

Innovation team with bereavement bags

Senior Sister Ali Griffiths from University Hospitals Plymouth has turned her experience of grief into positive change for bereaved relatives.

As part of the Trust’s Innovation Programme, Ali and a team of innovators have worked together to improve the way personal belongings are returned to families after someone has passed away.

As a result, new ‘bereavement bags’ are being rolled out across the hospital and it is hoped other Trusts across the UK will follow suit.

Ali said: “This idea was born out of my personal experience of collecting my Mum’s belongings. She died very suddenly and unexpectedly under catastrophic circumstances.

“Her things, including her dressing gown and hairbrush, were presented to me in a carrier bag. When I saw the contents and her hair on the brush, I was overwhelmed. I collapsed in a heap of sadness, and it took me a long time to get past that moment in my own grief journey. It didn’t feel like a carrier bag was representative of the care and compassion that we give to families here at the Trust.

“It's now been 10 years since Mum passed away and the sadness and devastation that we felt as a family. Being able to change the way that belongings are handed over, in a more respectful and caring way, means that potentially tens of thousands of other families - during a really difficult time of losing somebody so beloved to them - may have that moment made a little bit easier.”

New purple bereavement bags are now available for use by hospital staff. They resemble dignified gift bags, which have been chosen to represent gifting back personal belongings and the memories associated with them. The bags have a closing lid so that relatives can take out the contents at a time when they are ready.

Watch Ali's story

The distinctive colour and design means hospital teams will be able to recognise that the person carrying the bag is in need of extra care.

Dr Helen Neilens, Innovation Lead at University Hospitals Plymouth, said: “The look and feel of the bags has been chosen by the Patient Experience group with design and function in mind, and we also spoke to other Trusts sharing the same issue.”

NHS innovation projects allow members of staff to suggest ideas to improve products, processes or services. The aim could be to improve patient care, make savings, and in some cases present a commercial potential, bringing income in for the innovator and the Trust.

As a result of this project, each time a bag is sold a percentage of the money will go back into the Innovation Fund.

Even better, a percentage of that margin will go back to Ali Grifiths, because the project originated from her idea.

“She is then free to do what she wants with that money, which is a thank you to Ali for her role in making this important improvement”, added Dr Neilens.

Alan McLeod, Managing Director of Health Innovation Support Limited was key to the project’s success; creating and testing prototypes and working with the hospital’s procurement team to get the best price per unit for the bags.

He said: “I’m thrilled that we’ve been able to deliver this outcome for Ali, in her Mum’s memory, and for future families and staff.

“NHS staff can be very good at making do with what they are given, as opposed to saying ‘there must be a better way’.

“This shows that it doesn’t matter who you are, if you have an idea then there is a pathway for you. We hope to inspire people to know that they can make a difference.

“The fact there’s every chance thousands of these bags are going to be used up and down the country is great.”

Ali added: “As a nurse, I know that when you're dealing with a bereaved family, this will be a really positive message to them. You've delivered all that amazing end of life care to their loved one, and by presenting their belongings in this bag and not in a carrier bag, it portrays that message that we still care about them as a family.”

The Trust has already had interest from several other Trusts interested in using the purple bereavement bags. If your Trust is interested in orders and samples, email Dr Helen Neilens hneilens@nhs.net.  

UHP staff can submit innovation ideas here https://www.plymouthhospitals.nhs.uk/innovation.

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