The sight of an NHS uniform when we visit a hospital usually brings with it a feeling of professionalism, trust, and public confidence.
A well-dressed nurse or doctor in their official attire is a comforting presence on a ward. It can also be a calm influence in times of distress.
However, it is not possible to say the same thing when we meet the same staff member in scrubs at the supermarket or picking up our children from school.
These workers were sometimes criticised for wearing their uniforms out in public, and they were also blamed for spreading nasty bugs.
What are the guidelines for wearing the NHS uniform at work?
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), has extensive guidance for nurses on uniforms and workwear.
According to its report, there are seven principles that govern uniformity in the workplace. It should:
Provide mobility and comfort for the wearer
be strong enough to withstand washing (decontamination)
Contribute to security identification (e.g., a security coded badge with a name)
To encourage public trust in you and your profession, project a professional image.
Contribute to the corporate image nurses and their employers want to project;
be designed to reflect the work done and target client groups.
Safety issues for staff should be taken into consideration
A number of legal requirements are required to keep staff safe at work and ensure that they have the right attire to protect them and others from harm.
What damage can uniforms from the NHS cause?
Research has shown that uniforms can be contaminated with potentially deadly bacteria such as Clostridium difficile, Staphylococcus aureus and glycopeptide-resistant enterococci (GRE).
While it has been suggested uniforms may act as a “reservoir,” for infection transmission in hospitals, there has never been any evidence published.
RCN guidance states that “maximum contamination” is found in areas where there has been the most hand contact, such as pockets and cuffs. As a result, this can lead to recontamination of washed hands.
It is believed that about a third of all organisms found in the world are derived from the skin of the individual, rather than the uniform.
What is the dress code for NHS employees?
The All Wales NHS Dress Code by the Welsh Government requires that NHS staff “present a professional image at work”.
You will also find very specific guidelines about what you should and should not wear on duty.
All staff must keep their hair tidy. Staff must tie their hair up at the shoulders and secure it.
Except for a plain wedding ring/kara/ear-studs, staff must not wear any jewellery.
In a clinical setting, wrist watches should not be worn.
Only one pair of earrings may be worn by staff with pierced ears.
If the piercing is not removable for a certain time, staff must cover it with blue plaster.
Employees with body piercings other than earrings should cover them when they are at work.
Beards should be kept neatly trimmed by staff with beards
Staff should not have false nails or nail varnish.
Staff members must keep their fingernails clean and short.
For safety and health, employees must wear footwear that meets the following requirements: soft soles to reduce noise, low heels for manual handling and easy movement, closed toes to protect, etc.
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Do NHS employees need to wear their uniforms in public places?
This is what the RCN and Welsh Government have been very clear about.
According to them, uniforms worn by NHS employees are not allowed in public places.
They are permitted to travel to and from work in their uniforms, provided they cover them with a coat.
According to the Welsh Government All Wales NHS Dress Code Report, employees must change their uniforms at the end each shift.
“If changing facilities are not readily available, staff should make sure their uniforms are covered before they leave their workplace.
“Staff should not wear uniforms in public places such as shops. Staff who are required to work in public areas must cover their uniforms.
“Staff allowed to wear uniforms to work or in the community setting must cover their uniform when they travel.”
Are NHS employees allowed to wash their uniforms at work?
RCN reports that every acute healthcare organisation should have laundering facilities for uniforms. This will allow staff to change uniforms after work, and clean uniforms for their shifts.