A change of uniforms in hospitals?

The long-sleeved white coat is about to become a thing of the past in British hospitals

In hospitals, it is usually quite easy to determine what a person does by the clothes they wear. Physicians and therapists wear the timeless long-sleeved white coat, and nurses wear either a smart two-piece uniform or a dress, in white or in a variety of colours. But the long-sleeved white coat is about to become a thing of the past in British hospitals.

The baffling number of “superbug" outbreaks caused by bacteria like Clostridium difficile, better known as C.Diff, and methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus, also known as MRSA, has left hospitals around the world scrambling to find solutions. It was during such an exercise that the British regulatory authorities came to point an accusatory finger at the long-sleeved white coats favoured by physicians for so many decades. The issue is not with the coat itself, but rather with the cuffs. These inadvertently become contaminated with bacteria when the physician is examining a patient. Once the cuffs are contaminated, the risk of carrying bacteria to the next patient and contaminating them highly increases.

Hence, the British National Health Service (NHS) has issued a new dress-code called “bare below the elbow”. The NHS has opted to ban long-sleeved white coats and any other long-sleeved garments. From now on, physicians will have to work in short-sleeves shirts! Also banned from the new British hospitals fashion repertoire are neckties and jewellery pieces such as rings, bracelets and watches. And this ban applies to everyone: physicians, therapists and nurses alike.

Physicians will also have to relearn how to properly wash their hands all over again! In fact, experts declare that two out of three physicians do not wash their hands correctly. Needless to say, this clearly contributes to pathogen transmission!

Britain is also implementing new administrative measures to help ensure greater transparency in the management of superbug outbreaks in hospitals, the first being to quarantine all patients infected with a superbug. Also, nurses will be able to report directly to hospital boards four times a year, and any hospital administrator who attempts to cover up a potential outbreak will face massive fines.

In the last few years, Britain, like most industrialized countries, has had to contend with an alarming number of superbug outbreaks. In a relatively short time, these superbacteria have been able to develop a resistance to most antibiotics currently on the market. Because of this ability, treating them has become highly difficult, making eradication close to impossible. In Britain, as in Quebec, health authorities have implemented various measures in an attempt to minimize the risk of transmission of these superbugs. Quarantining the long-sleeved white coats is another small step towards improving hygiene standards in hospitals!

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