END of life care can be tough for patients and their families.

Colchester Hospital is a busy, acute hospital and constant medication rounds and clinical-looking side rooms are at odds with the human condition.

What patients need is something to make them feel at home, to make them feel comfortable, loved and something their families can hold onto after they have gone.

At Colchester Hospital a dedicated band of blanketeers are working tirelessly to create stunning knitted blankets for end of life patients.

The group is celebrating its second anniversary and it has come on in leaps and bounds since its inception.

It was founded by matron for medicine, Sarah Sands, and the daughter of a patient, Susi Long.

“It was slightly accidental in how it started,” Sarah said.

“I was a ward sister at the time and we had a patient called Jean who had been on the ward for a few months.

“Sadly we had to move her to end of life care.

“She was in a side room which is very sterile and clinical looking.

“A friend gave me a knitted blanket which I gave to her and it just softened the room. I would spray it with her perfume so it smelt of her.”

A few weeks after Jean died Sarah contacted her daughter, Susi, who said she had felt completely lost and was struggling with the grief.

Sarah added: “Susi said the only thing that helped her was the blanket as she would cuddle it every night and it would smell of her mum.

“I was quite overwhelmed with the difference it made and I asked her if she would be happy to help others in memory of her mum.

“It has changed how staff and visitors see end of life care now.”

When the group first started it had about 14 members.

Now about 50 people go to the hospital every other week to knit blankets and natter.

Other hospitals have taken on the idea including Ipswich, King’s Lynn and Bury St Edmunds.

Sarah also raised the idea at a national end of life conference and it received a good welcome.

The knitting benefits the blanketeers just as much as it does patients.

Sarah said: “I didn’t anticipate the social side as many people who come are isolated.

“Some of them come for their mental health, some are lonely or some feel bereaved.

“The group is diverse, our youngest member is nine-years-old and the oldest is in their 90s.”

The group visits all wards with end of life patients including cardiac units and cancer units.

“It just takes that clinical side away as we want to make it as homely as possible,” Sarah said.

“It just relaxes the atmosphere as it can be stressful for family sitting in a room watching their loves one die.

“There is a special handwritten message from the person who made it included.

“I know one lady wraps her husband’s pillow in it, and one lady with dementia who couldn’t get over the fact her husband had died uses the blanket to help her remember.”

The group has also supported St Helena Hospice, Teenagers with Cancer and rough sleepers across Colchester.

Sarah said: “It’s really amazing how something as simple as a blanket can change how people remember their loved ones.”

Members meet once a fortnight at the hospital and anyone interested can email sarah.sands@esneft.nhs.uk.