A NHS uniform is a sign of professionalism, trust, confidence, and openness when we visit the hospital.
We view a well-dressed doctor/nurse in their official attire as a reassuring presence and a calming influence in times when we are in distress.
The same can’t be said for staff members who are wearing the same scrubs when they pick up their children from school or at the supermarket.
These workers are sometimes criticised for wearing uniforms in public. They have been accused of spreading bugs and being wrongly accused.
What guidelines should you follow when wearing the NHS uniform to work?
The Royal College of Nursing has provided extensive guidance regarding uniforms and work wear to nurses.
Its report identifies seven key principles for uniform workplace. It should:
Comfort and mobility for the wearer
be tough enough to withstand contamination (laundering);
You can contribute to identification security purposes (e.g. a security coded security name badge).
Promote professionalism to increase public trust and confidence
Contribute to the image of nurses and employers that you want.
be designed with the client group in mind and reflect the type of work performed;
Take safety concerns into consideration.
There are also legal requirements that staff must follow to ensure safety at work, and to provide appropriate attire to prevent others from being hurt.
What harm could uniforms for the NHS do?
Uniforms can become infected by potentially harmful bacteria according to studies.
Though it has been suggested that uniforms could act as a “reservoir”, there is no published evidence to support this.
RCN guidance says that maximum contamination occurs in areas with the greatest amount of hand contact like pockets, cuffs, and apron. This could lead to the recontamination and reapplication of washed hand.
However, it is thought that only a third (or less) of organisms in existence are actually from the uniform.
What can NHS staff wear on duty?
According to the All Wales NHS Dress Code of the Welsh Government, NHS staff must “present a professional appearance at work”.
It also contains very specific requirements regarding what should and shouldn’t be worn while on duty.
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Staff members must maintain their hair in a neat, tidy style. Long hair should be pulled up to the shoulder and securely tied.
Staff are not allowed to wear jewellery, except for plain wedding rings/karas/ear studs.
Under any circumstance in a clinical environment, wrist watches must not be worn.
Staff with pierced ears can wear only one pair of stud earrings;
Personnel with new piercings must cover them with a blue plaster.
Staff with established bodypiercings (other than earrings) should cover their bodies when at work.
Beards must be neatly trimmed by employees who have beards.
False nails and/or nail varnish must be removed from staff members
Staff must ensure that their fingernails are neat and short.
Shoes must be worn by staff in accordance with health and safety regulations.
Should NHS staff wear uniforms in public?
The RCN as well as the Welsh Government are quite clear about this.
The NHS staff cannot display their uniforms in public areas.
They can travel with their uniforms to work as long as they’re covered by a coat.
According to the Welsh Government All Wales NHS Dress Code report, “Wherever changing facilities are available staff must change out their uniform before they leave their workplace.”
“Where there are no changing facilities, employees should cover up their uniform before leaving the workplace.
“Staff cannot wear uniforms in public places like shops or public spaces. If staff are required to enter public places as part of their job duties, they must cover up their uniforms.
“Staff members who may wear uniforms for work or community work must cover their uniforms when traveling.”
Is it possible for NHS employees to wash their uniforms at home?
RCN’s report stated that all acute healthcare organizations should have laundry facilities for staff uniforms. This would allow staff to wash their uniforms after work and be able to switch them out for the next shift.