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Irish end-of-life “handover bag” inspires Australian care

Author: Petrina Vousden
31 May 2017
  • Mary Casey, Clinical Nurse Manager, Patrick Kavanagh Ward St. James’s Hospital Dublin 8 with a "handover bag"

The ground-breaking hospital “handover bag” initiative is being copied in Australia to improve care provided to patients at end of life and their bereaved families and friends.

The handover bag concept was first introduced in Irish hospitals as part of the Irish Hospice Foundation’s pioneering Hospice Friendly Hospitals Programme (HFH) which is marking its tenth anniversary this year.

Marie Lynch, Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF) Head of Healthcare Programmes said:  “The principle of the family handover bag is to promote a dignified and sensitive way of returning the deceased patient’s personal belongings to the family.

“A high quality bag should be used in place of a plastic bag. 

“It’s one of the initiatives introduced by HFH in Irish hospitals over the past decade in partnership with the HSE to bring hospice principles into hospital settings.

“Since its inception in 2007 the Hospice Friendly Hospitals programme has grown tremendously and this is down to individuals across Ireland who have worked tirelessly to raise awareness and improve the quality of end-of-life care.

“The HFH programme has continued to innovate throughout this time and lead end-of-life care not only in Ireland but internationally.”

The specially designed handover bags carry the end-of-life symbol which was introduced to hospital settings as part of the HFH programme.

Healthcare professionals in Queensland, Australia have now followed Ireland’s lead and developed their own end-of-life symbol and handover bag.

Wendy Pearse from Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service’s (SCHHS) End –of-Life Care Committee said she learned about HFH on social media.

Ms Pearse said hospitals can do better “than plastic bags” when returning patient possessions to bereaved relatives and friends.

She said: “After being inspired by the Irish programme we developed an Australian take on handover bags and a few other resources. The aim of the handover bags is to convey to the family and staff that whilst the person was a patient with us, we cared for them and respected them.

“We will treat their belongings with the same care and dignity that we showed to the person who died.”

HfH was introduced to bring hospice principles into hospital settings. An average 30,000 deaths occur in Ireland every year. Approximately 48 per cent of those people will die in an acute hospital.

The tenth anniversary of the HFH programme was marked at an HFH Acute Hospital Network meeting in Cork on Tuesday, May 23. Leaders in end-of-life care from more than 40 hospitals linked to the HFH are members of this network which meets on a regular basis throughout the year.

Dr Eileen Mannion, consultant in palliative care at Galway University Hospital, Roscommon University Hospital and Galway Hospice Foundation said:  “Since its inception in 2007 the Hospice Friendly Hospitals Programme has shone a spotlight on end of life care in the acute hospital setting. Through its ongoing commitment to education and research in this area it strives to ensure the highest quality of care for patients and their families at the end of life.”

Marie Lynch said:  “The Hospice Friendly Hospitals programme continues to grow across Ireland – there are now 48 hospitals involved, 20 hospitals have access to end-of-life care coordinators and all are implementing the National Standards for End-of-Life care which were developed by the IHF and the HSE in 2010.”

The Health Service Executive and Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF) announced a Joint Oversight Group of the Hospice Friendly Hospitals Programme earlier this year.

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