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Five shortlisted for national awards: Precious bags for gifting back patient’s belongings

Bereavement bag We are delighted to announce that Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust will be represented by five finalists at the Patient Experience National Network (PENN) later this week.

Five projects were entered into the awards, which celebrate the delivery of outstanding patient experience. All five applications were shortlisted in at least one category, with the #Letsbeopen Campaign shortlisted in two.

The projects shortlisted are:

  • Bereavement Bags, shortlisted in the Support for care givers, friends and family category
  • Healthy Bones Mobile Unit, shortlisted in the Bringing patient experience closer to home category
  • #Letsbeopen Campaign – Empowering care in partnership, shortlisted in the Strengthening the foundation / Turning it around when it goes wrong category
  • Patient Diaries in Intensive Care, shortlisted in the Personalisation of care category
  • ‘SignLive’ – Providing patients, visitors and staff with more choice for hearing services, shortlisted in the Communicating Effectively with patients and Families category

In the lead up to the awards, we will be looking at each unique project and the positive impact it has had on patient experience. Today we are focusing on the bereavement bag; an idea conceived by Senior Sister Ali Griffiths. The bereavement bag aims to provide an alternative to the Trust standard plastic carrier bags, which are currently being used for bereaved families to collect their loved one’s belongings. 

Ali visited the Bereavement Team when her mum passed away to collect the medical cause of death certificate. She was handed a Trust standard green patient property bag, containing her mum’s belongings.  On lifting the bag from the floor, the essence of her mum could be smelt through her clothing and hairbrush, with traces of her hair at the top of the opened carrier bag.  Ali said: “For those split seconds she was here; she was back again. I could smell her and sense her again and that was incredibly painful at that time. It was a real assault on the senses.”

The death of a loved one is an event that all of us are likely to experience at some point during our lifetime. Dealing effectively and positively with grief caused by such a loss is central to a loved one’s recovery process.

The Trust standard green carrier bags currently being used can tear easily when carrying belongings through the hospital or out to the car park. The experience of collecting a relative’s belongings from the bereavement office is a very emotional and sensitive experience.  Ali said: “It really bothered me and it continued to bother me that it didn’t feel right; it didn’t represent what we’re about as a Trust. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do but I knew there had to be something.”

As part of the Trust’s ‘fab change week’, Senior Sister Ali was paired up with Claire Underdown; a colleague in the organisational development team as part of the randomised coffee trial – an activity to bring colleagues who do not usually work together to chat and share experiences over  a cup of coffee..  Ali talked about her experience of collecting her mum’s belongings and Claire was moved by the impact this had on Ali and was determined to try and support Ali to take action. 

Claire put Ali in touch with the Innovations Team at Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust who, through discussion and planning, were able to devise a concept design. Ali said: “It felt like we should collect the patient’s belongings and present them in more of a gift bag because we’re gifting those precious things back to the relatives.” 

The Innovations Team also canvassed opinion from other local trusts, which was met with enthusiasm and approval.

The new bereavement bags are designed to be suitable for both male and female patients. They are easy to carry and hold and there are two sizes available to prevent the need for multiple bags to be carried at once.  Each sealable and recyclable bag has been designed using a shade of purple (a common colour used to represent mourning and grief) and is coated in laminate to prevent deterioration and breakage in wet conditions.

The bereavement bag concept was developed to provide a sympathetic and respectful experience of bereavement. The bag is designed to maintain a sense of solemnity and be a recognisable symbol around the hospital so staff and public can show sympathy and understanding towards those experiencing bereavement.   

As these bereavement bags are new in the Trust, so the aim is for the colour and design chosen to be recognisable around the hospital allowing staff members to show their respect and sympathy for relatives at what is such a difficult time for them.

“By returning patients belongings to the bereaved relatives, we are ensuring that the precious belongings are gifted back to them to hopefully enable a positive grief journey” said Ali. I feel incredibly proud to have been able to make a change like this to benefit patients and relatives and I’m incredibly thankful for the support I have received. This now feels like a lasting legacy to my mum.”



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