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The rules on whether NHS staff are allowed to wear their uniforms in public

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An NHS uniform brings professionalism, trust, and confidence to patients when they visit hospitals.
Many people view a professional-dressed nurse or doctor as a comforting presence in distress and a calming influence.

It is impossible to be the same person when you bump into the same staff member at work in their scrubs, picking up their children or shopping at the supermarket.

These workers have been criticised for wearing their uniforms publicly, which has sometimes led to them being accused of contributing to the spread and spreading of harmful bugs.

What is the general advice on wearing the NHS uniform to work

The Royal College of Nursing’s (RCN), has published extensive guidance about uniforms and workwear for nurses.

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It identified seven core principles in its report on uniform in the workplace. It should:

Allow the wearer to move freely and feel comfortable.
be durable enough for laundering (decontamination).
Contribute towards identification for security purposes (for instance, a security-coded name badge).
Project a professional image in order to inspire public trust and faith
Contribute towards the corporate image that nurses want to project for their employers;
be designed with clients in mind.
Be sure to consider safety concerns for employees.

There are also legal requirements to keep employees safe at work and make sure they have appropriate clothing to protect themselves and others.

What harm can uniforms in the NHS do to patients?

Study results have shown that uniforms could be infected with potentially dangerous bacteria like Clostridium difficile, Staphylococcus Aureus, and glycopeptide resistance enterococci.

Although there have been suggestions that uniforms might act as a “reservoir,” in hospitals infection transmission has not been proven.

RCN guidance states that “maximum contact” occurs in areas such as pockets, cuffs or apron. This can result in the potential for recontamination.

However, it is believed that the uniform may have only 33% of the organisms.
What are the acceptable attires for NHS staff?

According to the All Wales NHS Dress Code issued by the Welsh Government, NHS staff are expected to “present a professional look at work”.

It also has very specific requirements as to what should and should NOT be worn on duty.

This includes:

Staff must style their hair. The hair must be at least medium length and long enough to reach the shoulder.
Staff should not wear jewelry except for a plain wedding band/kara/earstuds.
It is forbidden to wear wrist watches in clinical environments.
Staff with pierced ears are allowed to wear one set of stud earrings.
New piercings for staff (for which the piercing can’t be removed within a specified time) must be covered with a blue plaster
Employees who have body piercings other that earrings should cover these when they’re at work.
Beards must be maintained neatly by staff who bear beards
Staff cannot wear false nails and/or varnish to their nails.
Staff must maintain their finger nails neat and short.
All staff must wear footwear that is compliant with all health and safety requirements.

Should NHS staff wear their uniforms out in public?

This is something that the RCN (and Welsh Government) are very clear about.

They stated that uniforms of NHS staff are not permitted in public areas.

They are permitted to travel back to work on public transport, but they must cover their uniforms with a coat.

The Welsh Government All Wales NHS Dress Code report says: “Wherever changing facilities exist, staff must change into their uniform at the conclusion of each shift before they leave their work place.”

“Wherever changing facilities aren’t available, staff should ensure that their uniforms have been covered before they leave the place of employment.

“Staff shouldn’t wear their uniforms to work or in public places. If staff have to go into public places during the course of their work, they should cover their uniforms.

“Staff that are allowed to wear uniforms from work to home or to work in the community setting must cover up their uniforms while on the road.”

Can NHS staff wash their uniforms at the office?

RCN recommends that acute healthcare facilities provide laundering facilities for uniforms so staff can change after work and have clean uniforms ready for every shift.