Nurse who helped dying coronavirus patients speak to families honoured

A nurse who helped dying coronavirus patients speak with their families for the last time has been awarded a British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Alison Williams, 41, a research nurse at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, set up her Rainbow Boxes charity at the height of the pandemic after noticing patients on the wards had few personal belongings.

She raised tens of thousands of pounds through social media to provide essentials to people who found themselves suddenly in hospital with Covid-19.

Along with a colleague and a few friends, she began distributing coloured Rainbow Boxes which include toiletries, pyjamas, phone chargers and other items to make the patients more comfortable.

The boxes are now found in 60 wards across 10 hospital sites.

Ms Williams, from Edinburgh, also used the funds to buy iPads to allow isolated patients to contact their loved ones when tight coronavirus restrictions prevented them from visiting.

She told the PA news agency: “The iPads have been a crucial part of this. I’ve been privileged to connect families at home with their loved ones in hospital, in some cases for the last time. So those memories are very precious for me and I’ve been so lucky to be able to facilitate that.

“I got a personal message from somebody who saw her dad for the last time through one of the iPads and that obviously touched me. That will stay with me forever. It’s something positive that came out of a desperately sad situation.”

The charity has raised more than £50,000, and while this includes a £25,000 donation from the Royal Bank of Scotland, Ms Williams credits the Edinburgh community for their support during lockdown.

Alison Williams
Alison Williams

“It was very much a community driven initiative,” she said. “A particular Facebook group called Edinburgh Gossip Girls has 17,000 members and that was a big part of things because that is how the donations just spiralled.”

She said she got an email to tell her she was receiving the honour during a work meeting.

“I felt very emotional and overwhelmed,” she said. “It felt very special because it’s been a really hard time for everybody.”

Ms Williams praised her husband Mark for supporting her during the fundraising, and said while her two children, Esme, eight, and Charlie, seven, do not fully understand what it means to receive the honour, they “know it’s something special mummy is receiving”.

She added: “Family are a big part of this. They’ve been amazing. Everyone is chuffed.”