Nurse inspired to create hospital 'bereavement bags' after mum's sudden death

A nurse has helped create hospital 'bereavement bags' for relatives who are being given back loved ones' belongings [Photo: Getty]

Ali Griffiths still remembers the moment her late mum’s belongings were handed to her in a hospital carrier bag.

Her mum had died very suddenly and unexpectedly under catastrophic circumstances and Ali says it took her a long time to get over receiving her mum’s things in that way.

It struck the nurse that returning objects that are likely to hold sentimental value in carrier bag was not representative of the care that patients receive whilst being looked after in hospital.

So the Senior Sister at Derriford hospital decided to channel her own experience to inspire a positive change by creating new ‘bereavement bags’ to return patient belongings to grieving relatives.

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“This idea was born out of my personal experience of collecting my Mum’s belongings,” Ali explains.

Following her death, Ali’s mum’s things, including her dressing gown and hairbrush, were given to her in a carrier bag.

“When I saw the contents and her hair on the brush, I was overwhelmed,” Ali continues.

“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.”

So Ali set about changing things.

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

The team decided to choose purple as the colour for the bags so hospital staff can easily recognise them and realise the holder might be in need of extra care.

The bags resemble dignified gift bags, to represent gifting back personal belongings and the memories associated with them.

And they have been carefully designed with a closing lid so that relatives can take their time before looking at the items inside.

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Ali Griffiths (middle) says her personal experience inspired her to create the new 'bereavement bags' [Photo: Plymouth University Hospitals]

“It's now been 10 years since Mum passed away and the sadness and devastation that we felt as a family,” Ali says.

“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.”

The new purple bags are currently being rolled out across University Hospitals Plymouth and it is hoped that other hospitals across the UK will adopt the touching new scheme.

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Commenting on the new bags Alan McLeod, Managing Director of Health Innovation Support Limited 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.”