Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The Return of the White Coats

It is 20 years since we were told our medics were to lose their white coats because patients, especially children, found the white-coated doctor intimidating.  The other reason was that the coats were unhygienic as they could spread infection - a statement I've never understood because today's doctors don't change their clothes between patient consultations, or have I missed something?

Now, in the true spirit of egalitarianism, patients are complaining that they can't tell a surgeon from a secretary and if doctors are indistinguishable they appear undistinguished.  That has really upset York Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and they are to introduce uniforms for doctors this autumn.  Guys and St Thomas' has made white coats mandatory for all junior doctors and medical students.  West middlesex launched its uniform in 2007.

The uniforms vary but all have short sleeves to comply with the national 'bare below the elbows' policy, a hygiene requirement to make it easier for staff to wash their hands.

The moved is welcomed by the medics as they will now have somewhere to keep their instruments of torture treatment.  Defenders of the garments said they had been maligned and the real reason they became unhygienic was the removal of hospital laundry facilities.

It would be interesting if the Scottish NHS piloted the wearing of white coats in one Scottish hospital to see if there is a noticeable reduction in hospital acquired infections.  Of course they would have to ensure laundry facilities were available and efficient.



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