UK Hospitals to Ban Doctor's Traditional White Coats to Curb Spread of Superbugs

by VR Sreeraman on Sep 17 2007 3:51 PM

The trademark long-sleeved white coat of doctors is all set to go, for the health ministry in the UK has decided to banish the apparel in an attempt to counter the spread of superbugs.

Doctors will be asked to wear easily-washed scrubs as part of ‘bare below the elbow’ dress code that will come into effect in NHS hospitals by the end of the year, according to the measure taken by Health Secretary Alan Johnson.

Other measures include isolating patients infected by superbugs ina separate ward and cohort nursing.

Norman Lamb, the Lib Dem health spokesman, said that the measure has come in when countless other initiatives have failed to stop the spread of MRSA and clostridium difficile.

"Countless previous initiatives have failed to halt the spread of superbugs, as they are simply not enforced in all hospitals and care homes,” the Daily Mail quoted Lamb, as saying.

"It is not enough to tinker around the edges of this problem, there has to be a real culture change in hospitals and care homes.” "There must be a zero-tolerance approach to tackling infections. Hospital staff should treat failure to comply with hygiene standards as a very serious issue akin to gross misconduct.”

"Disciplinary action should be considered to ensure standards are met and lives are saved." Joyce Robins, of campaign group Patient Concern, said that superbugs have spread due to improper disinfecting techniques and not due to white coats.

"This is a case of ministers fiddling while Rome burns,” Robin said. "One of the main reasons superbugs have spread is because beds and wards are never empty long enough to be properly disinfected, not because doctors have white coats.” "It is important that doctors can be easily identified, and this can be done by the white coat."

Hospital staff will also be told to top from wearing watches, jewellery and ties while carrying out clinical activities. "The traditional doctors' white coat will not be allowed. The new clothing guidance will ensure good hand and wrist washing,” a spokesman for the Department of Health said.

"Where staff have direct patient contact, then suitable protection - for example, plastic aprons - should be worn," the spokesperson said. The white coat has lost its popularity over recent years.

A survey by London's Royal Free Hospital in 2004 revealed that only one in eight of doctors questioned actually wore a white coat.