Sep 17, 2007
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MRSA fears prompt ban on doctors' white coats in England

Sep 17, 2007

LONDON, Sept 17, 2007 (AFP) - Doctors in England are to be banned from wearing their traditional white coats in a bid to stamp out potentially deadly infections like MRSA in hospitals, Health Secretary Alan Johnson said Monday.

Photo : Joel Robine/AFP

From January 2008, doctors will have to wear plastic aprons instead as hospitals will have to comply with a new "bare below the elbows" dress code for staff, which will also see ties banned from the wards.

The new measures, which suggest that cuffs on white coats could be a means of spreading infection, also ban wrist watches and jewellery and aim to instigate a tougher regime of handwashing.

"I'm determined that patient safety, including cleanliness, should be the first priority of every NHS organisation," Johnson said in a statement.

"This is a clear signal to patients that doctors, nurses and other clinical staff are taking their safety seriously."

The most recent figures from the independent Health Protection Agency show that, between January and March this year, there were 1,444 recorded cases of MRSA in England and 15,592 of c.difficile, another type of infection.

In June, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) warned that "healthcare-associated infections" which are resistant to many antibiotics, such as MRSA, are "possibly the biggest infectious disease challenge facing the EU."

It said that around three million people in the European Union catch a healthcare-associated infection every year and approximately 50,000 die as a result.

A Department of Health report outlining research which guided the new measures suggested that they were also about reassuring the public.

"Not all staff need to wear uniforms and it seems unlikely that uniforms are a significant source of cross-infection," it said.

"Nevertheless, the way staff dress will send messages to the patients they care for and to the public."

Hospitals will be allowed to reach local arrangements with for example Sikh staff to allow them to wear bangles while maintaining high cleanliness standards.

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