Staff at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital started a campaign for patients in need. Josie Le Vay spoke to Jen Turner-Steel, the nurse behind the idea.
‘‘This is a gift from the local community. People really want to give you something. They want you to know that you matter.”
That’s what Jen Turner-Steel says when she hands over ‘comfort bags’ to vulnerable patients in the emergency department. The bags contain essential personal items to help support patients with their ongoing health needs and provide them with comfort and dignity when they leave the emergency department.
”I felt quite helpless that I couldn’t do more for them”
Ms Turner-Steel came up with the idea last year. “I had it on my mind – how we could help. I wanted to find a new way of improving people’s lives, and I wanted to get staff and the public involved,” she said.
“I had a couple of patients come in and they had a real impact on me. You get certain cases that just stick with you and I felt quite helpless that I couldn’t do more for them,” she added.
Ms Turner-Steel said: “The comfort bags are not just for our homeless patients but for our vulnerable patients. You don’t have to be homeless to be vulnerable. The bags could be for older people, single mothers – anybody who could do with a bit of a morale boost.”
The comfort bags contain a waterproof poncho; thermal socks; wet wipes; tissues; a toothbrush and toothpaste; soap; sanitary products; and information about local services. The items are donated by people in the local community.
“The local church has raised their own money to give us and people have been donating items. People were quite quick to get on board,” Ms Turner-Steel said.
A lot of the bags also contain cards with empowering messages such as “you matter”, “you are important”, and “you are special” written on them – all handmade by a church volunteer.
“The response we’ve got has been amazing; people have been blown away. It’s because of the way we have done it, that what we’re giving them is a gift from the community,” Ms Turner-Steel said.
The Comfort Exeter campaign also includes a clothing bank, which supplies emergency items to patients.
Ms Turner-Steel said: “People who come into A&E sometimes have no clothes to go home in because they’ve been cut off during treatment. Now they can be given something from the clothing bank on discharge thanks to the campaign.”
“People are quite keen to support the NHS, and they don’t want to see it fail”
Local residents have been bringing in donations of clothes too. “People want to help, and they can do something that isn’t putting money in a homeless person’s pot. They can go out and buy a couple of pairs of socks. It can empower people to help those in need,” Ms Turner-Steel said.
“People are quite keen to support the NHS, and they don’t want to see it fail. By donating to our charity they feel they are supporting their local hospital and the NHS,” she said.
Ms Turner-Steel and her team are so thankful for the support that they try to “write personal thank you letters” to those who have donated. “It’s heartwarming to see people want to support us and I think it’s really important to acknowledge their generosity,” she said.
“I think we’ve done a really good job and we’re very thankful for everyone involved in the campaign and all the support we have received,” Ms Turner-Steel said.
“This has the potential to be life-changing. Acknowledging that someone is still a human being can be something that changes somebody’s life,” she said.
The project has only been in place for two months, but Ms Turner-Steel said: “We have been fortunate, but we don’t want it to just be a project for over Christmas and winter. We want to continue helping people.”
How do I get to be you?
If you want to start a campaign, then just go for it. Caring about people is all you need. You do not need to be qualified, you do not need to be highly paid – you just need a real passion for improving people’s lives. Work out who you can have a positive impact on and who you can involve. Having discussions with as many people as possible is great because you’re able to get more people interested in the idea. The more people you speak to the better. Look externally, see who you can get on board and who you can talk to. Think about your target audience. Who do you want to reach and what are the best ways to reach them? What are their needs?