MESSAGES set in stone are comforting hospital patients across the Forth Valley.

Patients are able to receive a personally painted pebble, bearing a message on one side from a loved one as part of an initiative.

The so-called comfort stones fit snugly into the hand and are being painted by local volunteers.

There are a variety of designs being created with seascapes, clouds, flowers and much more.

Once painted, each stone is sealed over with varnish so they may be sanitised and opened after 72 hours to comply with infection control policies.

Friends and family are able to phone the ward where the patient is with the message they wish to send.

This will be written on the pebbles by staff with a permanent marker before being passed to the patient.

Lisa Doran, a secondary school teacher, is spearheading the programme.

She said: “I think it is so important to feel connected to the people we love when we are afraid or ill.

“When we can't hold the hand of a loved one when sick in hospital, holding a stone painted with love with a message from them can bring so much comfort.

“Small things like this can make a big difference to someone's wellbeing.

“To know you have not been forgotten and to know someone cares.

“Our volunteers all live or work in the local community.

“Some are staff from my workplace and others are from local rock painting groups.

“Many are painting rocks with their children as a shared activity or inviting friends and neighbours to become involved so our Facebook group has a great sense of community and people are really supportive of one another.”

Lisa hopes to arrange for an online tutorial from a professional artist for the volunteers, as many are decorating stones for the first time.

The comfort stones will be available in all wards at Forth Valley Royal Hospital as well as in the four community hospitals in Clackmannanshire, Stirling, Falkirk and Bo'ness.

Sandra Campbell, who works with the local health board as a Macmillan nurse consultant for cancer and palliative care, was inspired by the idea.

She added: “We understand that you would prefer to be there in person with your loved one, holding their hands, but we hope this gives you the opportunity to be there in an alternative and creative way.

“This is a perfect example of being able to bring people together through kindness and compassion.”

Family and friends can phone the ward where the patient is with a message or contact NHS Forth Valley's Spiritual Care Team on 01324 566 071 to arrange for a comfort stone.

People looking to volunteer to paint stones can email or find Forth Valley Comfort Stones on Facebook.