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Wednesday, 24 April, 2002, 14:09 GMT 15:09 UK
Nurses' uniforms 'can carry infections'
Uniforms should ideally be washed daily
Uniforms should ideally be washed daily
Nurses could be carrying infections on their uniforms as they move between wards and even as they travel to and from work.

The Royal College of Nursing annual congress in Harrogate heard how uniforms can become infected with bacteria as nurses come into contact with patients.

Many hospitals often do not have changing facilities - something which is against health and safety regulations and which means nurses have to wear their uniform on their way to work, spreading the risk of infection.

When nurses care for the most infectious patients, they wear protective aprons and gloves and even eye protection if there is a risk of bodily fluids being splashed on the face.


We are trying to make people think about problems - such as the lack of changing rooms

Hazel Price, RCN Health and Safety rep
But the nurses will be wearing the same uniform as they move between the room of the patient who is being barrier nursed, the wards and the outside world.

A direct link has not been made between uniform contamination and an infection in a patient.

But nurses say the hygiene practices need to be examined by both employers and nurses to contain any potential risk.

Poor facilities

Infections are a huge issue for the NHS. In 2000, the National Audit Office estimated that hospital-acquired infections cost the NHS 1 billion per year.

Poor hand-washing, insufficient apron changes and wearing uniforms for more than one day also increase cross-infection risks.

Nurses are responsible for washing their own uniforms - and they have to be washed at high temperatures rather than low household temperatures.

The RCN has called for nurses to have enough uniforms so that they can be washed every day - and should be able to use any hospital laundry facilities.

But in some places, laundry services are inadequate or non-existent.

Nurse Hazel Price, who is an RCN health and safety rep at Bromley Hospital Kent, told BBC News Online: "Research has been done which shows that uniforms can still be contaminated even if people are wearing aprons.

"Nurses are in a very hazardous position in that they have to be extremely careful."

She stressed that most trusts and nurses are aware of hygiene practices. But she added: "We are trying to make people think about problems - such as the lack of changing rooms.

"If you can change your uniforms at work, you're not taking the bugs out."

See also:

17 Feb 00 | Health
NHS bugs 'kill 5,000 a year'
23 Nov 00 | Health
Hospital bugs kill thousands
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