6 November 2021

Michelle’s Story – Giving Patients a Christmas like at Home

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My name is Michelle Robertson, and I am a charge nurse at East Lothian Community Hospital. We care for patients on the Oak Tree ward who can be elderly people with mental health problems, dementia, or have been diagnosed with early-onset dementia. Some of our patients stay on the ward long-term, and a few patients who will be here this Christmas were here last year too.

Every year on the ward, many patients can’t go home to family for Christmas because they are too unwell. That’s why we try to make the ward less like hospital and to give them a Christmas like they might have had at home.

Donations from kind people like you mean we can go above and beyond to bring Christmas to all our patients.

In the lead-up to the festive period, the ward activity coordinators make decorations with the patients. They create festive art pieces to laminate and display around the ward windows. We have two activity coordinators on the ward who craft, bake, play board games and music with the patients. Last Christmas, they created a festive ‘fireplace’ display, complete with a projector simulating the burning log fire. It really made the place feel warm and cosy.

Helping to make Christmas decorations and the other activities the patients do daily give them purpose. They enjoy socialising and interacting with the other patients and the staff. We can see the positive impact of this in the days that follow. They are calmer, smile, and make more eye contact. They are less distressed, and the need for medication and restraint is considerably reduced.

We put up a real Christmas tree in the courtyard and a Santa’s sleigh with lights. We try and ‘pimp up’ the outdoor communal area as best we can.

We throw a Christmas party in the week leading up to Christmas. We have live music or a DJ, and we provide party food and alcohol-free beer and wine. A team member dresses up as Santa and pays a visit to the patients, and the rest of the staff dress up too.

On Christmas day, patients have a special breakfast together with the ward staff and open their presents. They are each given a small gift, sometimes it’s toiletries, but this year we are giving them all lovely blankets, which is something nice that they can take home with them and keep forever.

Some of the patients don’t have any relatives nearby, so the present from the ward staff may be the only one they get that year.

The patients and staff have a traditional Christmas lunch, then they all gather around the TV for the Queen’s speech. In the evening, they have a buffet, with cheese and crackers and chocolates. It is a real treat and makes the day extra special for everyone.


Your donation will go a long way to making Christmas special for someone who is spending it in hospital.

NHS Lothian staff stood together smiling at the camera wearing Santa hats, reindeer antlers and elf headbands.