A DOCTOR who has spent decades easing the pain of loss has earned a lifetime achievement award.

Marilyn Relf, head of bereavement support at Sobell House Hospice, was bestowed with a 'prestigious' recognition of her role.

The award from national charity Hospice UK comes just weeks before her retirement, following a 35-year career at the Headington hospice.

She described the accolade as 'a huge surprise and great honour', adding: "It was wonderful to be part of the pioneering days of hospice care.

"The award underlines how important it is to support patients' families and close friends, and the vital role Sobell House has played in pioneering bereavement care as an integral aspect of hospice and palliative care.

"Above all it reflects the commitment and dedication of our wonderful volunteers, without whom we could not offer this service. It means a great deal to have bereavement care recognised by this award."

Dr Relf heads a team tasked with supporting family and friends after a loved one has died, and received the Anne Norfolk Lifetime Achievement Award at a ceremony in Liverpool last week.

Sobell's clinical lead Mary Miller said: "Dr Relf is renowned for her scientific rigour in understanding issues and professionally interrogating solutions. This is combined with a wise, humane, compassionate and creative personality.

"It is fitting that Dr Relf concludes her career later this year with such a prestigious and well-deserved lifetime achievement award."

Sobell's family bereavement service, which Dr Relf helped to introduce, was one of the first services of its kind in the UK.

It now consists of a counsellor, administrators and a team of 25 volunteers.

Dr Relf was also head of education at Sobell House for 10 years, inspiring hundreds of health and social care staff at the hospice.

Tracey Bleakley, chief executive of Hospice UK, said the ceremony celebrated people who 'embody the very best of humanity' and show 'unstinting dedication'.

She added: "[These are] hugely inspiring people who have made a big impact on hospice care in very different ways.

"They have all made a huge difference to services for people with life-limiting conditions and their families."

As well as growing bereavement care at Sobell House, Dr Relf contributed extensively to research papers and books about the subject.

She co-authored the 1999 book Loss and Bereavement, which explains how grief manifests itself in many different ways according to the individual.

Dr Relf is also chair of the National Bereavement Alliance, and a founding trustee of Oxfordshire grief support charity SeeSaw.

Her award, named after the late Duchess of Norfolk, was reserved for someone who had made an 'outstanding contribution' to hospice care.