Department Of Health Uniform Rules Put Nurses And Patients At Risk, UK
Nurses who wash their uniforms at home are increasing the risk of infection in their own homes and in the UK’s hospitals. Forced by cash strapped NHS Trusts to wash their uniforms at home, nurses are carrying potentially harmful infections both into the hospital and then back into the home at the end of the working day. That is the claim put forward in a new report published today [28 June] by the Textile Services Association (TSA).
NHS Trusts are following hygiene guidelines from the Department of Health and yet Britain is almost the only European country that tolerates the unquantified infection risk posed to patients and the public by home-washed uniforms worn by nurses in, and traveling to and from, their work place. The food industry, by contrast, has long accepted the potentially deadly consequences of such a hygiene loophole. The hygiene standards in a hospital kitchen, or a dog food manufacturer, are higher than those required for the cleaning of a nurses’ uniform.
The TSA is calling on the Department of Health and NHS to recognise that infections might be spread by the almost universal practice of nurses’ taking their uniforms home to wash and their policy needs to change.
“Department of Health guidelines irresponsibly allow nurses to wash their uniforms at home in totally unsuitable domestic washing machines. Our research shows that domestic machines do not reach a high enough, nor maintain the degree of temperature necessary to remove bacteria picked up during a nurse’s working day,” explains Murray Simpson, chief executive of the TSA.
Elsewhere in the world the NHS faith in the untested and unmonitored hygiene standards of nurses’ home washing machines, or the risk of a uniform coming into contact with any infected surfaces, is unthinkable. Uniforms are, instead, seen as a likely mechanism for transmitting bugs.
Thomas Krautschneider, of Austrian textile rental firm Salesainer Miettex, says: “It is obvious to everyone in Austria that if you work in hospital then uniforms get soiled with hazardous dirt, germs and viruses. If you have rules to wash bed linen hygienically, it is common sense that you do not stop when you come to the clothes worn by people who come into contact with patients.”
Ian Hargreaves, independent technical consultant and National Officer of the Society of Hospital linen services and laundry managers goes further. He says:
“The Department of Health has double standards. Whilst it advocates washing at home as being safe, it still insists that where uniforms are processed in-house or by external contractors they are subject to HSG(95)18 conditions, which requires thermal disinfection. This must be seen as dual standards or a waste of energy. If there is no risk associated with potentially infected uniforms, let’s do the research, provide the evidence and draw a line under the matter.”
The Department of Health and the NHS oversee a hygiene regime in stark contrast to that of the food industry; it has adopted an approach called Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP). The food industry’s does not wait to find evidence that contamination arose at a certain point before it does something about it. At every point they ask, what the risks of contaminating the product are and then implement the controls and the monitoring needed.
The TSA is calling for an urgent review of current policy and the adoption of a system allowing for the professional laundering of uniforms in a controlled environment to remove risk of infection. Murray Simpson comments:
“The Department of Health and NHS ignore the risks of home-washed uniforms at their peril. Nurses’ uniforms are by definition an unwitting potential time bomb. We are extending the offer of accelerated trials with NHS Trusts to support research into garment hygiene, which should be viewed as an investment in protecting our health service, the people who work in it, patients and the population at large. When considering the risks to people’s lives, the costs of ignoring this potential threat should not be just measured in monetary value.”