When Sam Stirling, Senior Physiotherapist at the Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, started the Clothes Bank in her spare time back in August 2018, little did she know how crucial it would become during one of the biggest global health crises of our lifetime.
As well as the obvious medical challenges that came with Coronavirus, it also brought other challenges for patients who were admitted to hospital, impacting things we would normally take for granted, such as having access to a change of clothes or a toothbrush and toothpaste during a hospital stay.
For many patients who were admitted to hospital whilst visiting restrictions were in place earlier this year, this was the reality. They found themselves with nothing but the clothes they were wearing and no access to visitors to bring them things that they needed.
Thanks to generous donations from supporters via our COVID-19 Appeal, the local community, and businesses in the area, the Clothes Bank at the Western General Hospital was able to provide clothing and toiletries to patients who had no other way to access these.
Sam Stirling tells us more about why the Clothes Bank is so important to her and why, so many years later, she is still so actively involved:
“Getting patients up, dressed and moving is something that I have always been passionate about – in fact as a physiotherapist, getting patients mobile again is a key principle of my job. A vital part of this is getting them up and out of their pyjamas. Wearing pyjamas and hospital gowns all day reinforces that feeling of being unwell, and can result in patients spending longer in hospital than is clinically necessary.
“Encouraging them to get dressed while they are in hospital makes them more inclined to move around, helping them to gain their independence more quickly and generally leading to a quicker recovery.
“But what if you don’t have any clothes to change into? What happens then?
“Unfortunately, that was the case for some of our patients in the Western General. They had no friends or family who could bring clothes in, or take clothes away to be washed so that they would be clean and fresh.
“Having been actively involved for many years in the #EndPJParalysis campaign, I decided to set up the Clothes Bank as a way to ensure that those who didn’t have access to suitable clothing to wear during their stay in hospital, would not be disadvantaged in their recovery.
“We have always relied on donations from the local community and it was great to also be able to apply for, and receive funding from, the Edinburgh and Lothians Health Foundation to allow us to top up any low stock items as well as launder any donations we received, ensuring we were following infection control protocols.
“When Coronavirus hit, the Clothes Bank became even more crucial – not just for those patients who we had supported previously, but for every patient who couldn’t receive visitors due to restrictions, and who came into hospital with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
“This put a huge strain on the clothing levels that we had. Local people and businesses such as Costco, Sainsbury’s and Primark all rallied round to give us donations of pyjamas, slippers and toiletries so that no patient would be without.
“We also applied again for funding from Edinburgh and Lothians Health Foundation, this time through their COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund, to ensure we could continue to top up any items that were running low, as well as buy additional storage to deal with the increased demand.
“I am so grateful to everyone who has supported, and continues to support, the Clothes Bank, whether that be through direct donations of clothes or through donations to Edinburgh and Lothians Health Foundation. It is thanks to this kindness and generosity that we are able to continue to support our patients in their recovery at the Western General.”
2,500 patients have used the Clothes Bank since it was set up in August 2018. Here is some of the feedback that has been received from staff about the benefits of the Clothes Bank to patients since it was launched:
“Not having family around to bring clothes or not having clothes to wear in the hospital for any other reasons causes patients to express feeling embarrassed, ashamed, alone. Thanks to the Clothing Bank, staff are able to ‘go the extra mile’ and provide an additional element of care to patients and the availability of spare clothing contributes to respect of the person’s dignity.”
“I have had a couple of patients with limited social support and nobody to come and taken clothes for washing or bring in anything for them – so this has meant they could still have some feeling of cleanliness. It has also meant that patients are not sitting around in their pjs/nightdress all day which helps motivate them.”
“The clothes bank is a wonderful idea and is of great benefit to our patients.
“It has allowed patients the dignity of clean, comfortable clothing instead of sitting in pyjamas or hospital gowns. It is particularly helpful for those who don’t have frequent visitors or family to bring clothing.
“There is a psychological benefit to being up and dressed, which helps the individual see themselves as someone undergoing rehab, rather than someone sick in hospital.
“It is far more dignified as a patient, to walk down a hospital corridor wearing a shirt and trousers than a backless hospital gown.”
To find out more about how your donations have supported NHS Lothian staff and patients during the Coronavirus pandemic, visit: https://www.elhf.co.uk/covid-19-appeal/funded-projects/