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Tuesday, 12 May 2009

To wear a white coat, or not to wear white coat? That is the question…

OK, so I’ll make this clear from the start, I do NOT have a problem with the Welsh Assembly Government’s recent announcement to introduce colour-coded uniforms for nurses in NHS Wales. It will undoubtedly help patients identify who’s who. But more importantly here, there needs to be adequate laundry services and sufficient change of clothing to assist in reducing cross infection. Is this guaranteed? Given the fact that in this article the Assembly only “hopes to have laundries in hospitals”, let’s hope it’s more than just an aspiration.

On another point – the same article has the Chief Nursing Officer Rosemary Kennedy quoted as saying “We do have doctors floating around with white coats flapping around behind them. We have got very lax.”

This is disparaging of the many doctors in NHS Wales who are hard working, often for many excessive and continuous hours to plug gaps in rotas. They are far from “floating around”. Little wonder then that Wales is not top of junior doctors destinations with comments like this.

I don’t really think doctors and white coats “flapping” or otherwise is the real issue here when it comes to hygiene. They are no more of an infection risk than any other type of hospital clothing. What matters most is having comprehensive laundry facilities, with fresh clothing frequently available. We can of course hope for this!

This highlights a bigger issue about NHS uniform policy and it’s something that the BMA’s Welsh Medical Student’s Committee (WMSC) has been trying to get clear guidance and a straight answer on for some time now.

18 months ago the WMSC wrote to the Health Minister asking for clarification regarding hospital hygiene and “white coat” protocols and the committee, despite repeated attempts, is no closer to getting an answer on this, with the policy seemingly decided on an individual trust basis. So, our more junior members, when on rotation, are going to different hospitals, where in some cases, they can wear white coats and in others, are told it’s not acceptable to wear them. All this confusion still remains, despite the fact that an All Wales Uniform Working Group was set up by the WAG to look into white coats protocol amongst other things, more than a year ago. Not much “flapping” going on there then!


  1. I agree with you Mr. Lewis, that the laundry issue needs to be clarified and made clear. This is a loophole where most Trust could get-away with imposing a uniform protocol in accordance with WAG mandate, la di blah di blah, but not giving staff support in line with this issue by not giving sufficient laundry support. Staff then has to shoulder costs to these changes. As a debt-laden nurse in this economic crisis situation, I am not very happy with it.

    I don't think that "flapping doctors" remark was meant to cause offence. Well, I hope not anyway. If any doctor was offended by it, I am compelled to apologise. As a nurse in Wales, I do not like to see a fellow nurse disparaging any member of the multidisciplinary healthcare team, may it be a doctor or not. And at a public domain at that. Besides, it is against the NMC Code of Professional Practice under Team Working.


  2. Dear Phantom Nurse,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment on this issue. A consistent nurse uniform across Wales will undoubtedly be of help to patients and staff alike.

    I believe the way in which the statement was issued certainly made me wonder about adequate laundry support and plentiful supply of uniforms. Your comments support that concern - which will be a concern for other nursing colleagues too.

    I think WAG and employers need to be pushed further on this point.


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