Hospital charity funds bags to support patients with learning disabilities

Adult patients with learning disabilities (LD) now have access to Vulnerable In-Patient (VIP) bags when visiting Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals (DBTH).

Funded by the Trust charity, Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals Charity, the VIP bags are green rucksack-style bags, containing a variety of activities to provide a stimulus for those who may find busy environments challenging.

The bags, which have a value of roughly £20 each, are also designed to hold documentation such as Health Passports and can be customised to the individual and their own needs, for example adding in a person’s preferred cup, spare sling, or resource of their choice.

Simon Brown, Deputy Chief Nurse at DBTH and Acute Lead for LD Ambassadors, said: “VIP bags have already made a tremendous impact on the care we provide at DBTH. The bags not only help to reduce anxiety and stress for our patients but also allow us to deliver a more personalised, compassionate and inclusive healthcare experience.”

“I am very proud of the individuals within the Learning Disabilities Service, who have quickly implemented this new tool to support the patients who need it the most. They have shown their compassion and understanding by addressing the specific needs of individuals with learning disabilities.”

The criteria to receive a VIP bag is a patient with a diagnosed learning disability, confirmed through a validated GP register, who lives within the Doncaster and Bassetlaw area and is over the age of 17 ½.

Bags follow a ‘traffic light’ theme throughout their design. Wristbands in a red, green and yellow colour, and bag tags with a photo of traffic lights, help identify patients who may be in need of reasonable adjustments.

Kate Priestly, who works as a Patient Navigator for Ears, Nose & Throat (ENT) and Oral and Maxillofacial surgery (OMFS), said: “The VIP bags make a huge difference to our patients with learning disabilities. It brings them reassurance, comfort and above all helps them feel in control.”

Kate, who is also a LD Ambassador at the Trust, assisted one of the very first patients to use the VIP bag, Raymond, during his visit for a Rhinoplasty.

She said: “Our patient was the first at Doncaster Royal Infirmary to use a VIP bag, so he was very excited about this.”

Patient Raymond with a VIP bag.

Before his appointment, Kate gave the patient a tour through the areas he would visit, introduced him to the staff, and showed him his sleeping area.

Kate said: “We discussed what he would need to bring with him. This included his VIP bag, which had his favourite items like a cuddly blanket for his bed.

“He felt reassured that a Health Passport would be in his bag too.”

In advance of his visit, colleagues in the area the patient was to attend were informed that he would have a VIP bag with him.

Another individual who has only good things to say about the bags is Louise, a patient at Doncaster Royal Infirmary.

About the bags, she said: “I think they’re a really good idea and we need more money for them.

“They help because you have pens to draw pictures and distractions to help you feel less nervous.

“I have fidgets and colouring books in mine.”

Patient Louise with a VIP bag.

As part of LD Week (17 – 23 June 2024), the team of LD Ambassadors hosted a stand at Doncaster Royal Infirmary to raise awareness about the work they do and the people they help.

Acute Liaison Nurse for DBTH, Rebecca Knapton, said: “We are one of the few Trusts in South Yorkshire to implement the VIP bags and so far we have 115 bags to be used across Doncaster and Bassetlaw.”

Learning Disability Week stand at Doncaster Royal Infirmary with patient Louise and members of the Learning Disability Ambassador team.

In Doncaster, there are approximately 2,500 adults who have learning disabilities and who could benefit from the bags when visiting the hospital.

Rebecca continued: “We consulted the community of carers and people with Learning Disabilities about what the colour of the bag should be and its contents. One thing we discovered was that they didn’t like the idea of a red rucksack, because it draws too much attention and could make them feel more vulnerable.

“We will use this year’s Learning Disability Awareness Week to gather feedback on how well they have been received and used.”

Adults who would benefit from these bags should speak with the Learning Disability team using the email address. The team then checks if they already have one or if one needs to be offered.

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