NHS uniform won’t please all, but will it reduce role confusion?

New nationally colour-coded garments for nurses and other staff groups have yet to win universal praise inside the profession

Variety of NHS uniforms displayed together on hanger to show the wide colour palette use to distinguish between professionals and roles
Picture: John Houlihan

It’s Christmas quiz time …so here’s a question, or rather, three: how do you spot a registered nurse wearing a new NHS uniform in England?

What colour tunic will nurses who are team leaders be wearing from next summer? And what would you wear if you moved from, say, an NHS hospital in Dover to another in Dundee?

Nurses’ scepticism about the new NHS national uniform

The new national uniform for healthcare staff in England was revealed in its full spectrum of colours to everyone attending RCNi’s recent flagship Nursing Live event in Liverpool. NHS Supply Chain, the procurement arm of the health service whose survey of some 50,000 staff endorsed the idea of a national uniform, says the colour coding is intended to make it easier for staff as well as patients and the public to distinguish between professional groups and roles.

However, many nurses disagreed when the garments were unveiled saying they failed to distinguish between registered nurses and unregistered staff, or between those on different bands – which helps to identify skills and experience.

Breathable textiles and much-prized pockets

Adding to the (colour) mix, NHS trusts are free to make their own arrangements for the uniforms’ adoption from next summer as their current contracts with suppliers expire. With contracts often running for years, this means it will be some time before the national uniform is truly nationwide.

It is a laudable aim that the colour ways should help patients recognise different roles and responsibilities, but many patients will simply call ‘nurse’ if they need attention or call for a nurse whose name they know – after all, the ‘hello my name is’ initiative encourages staff to announce and display their name.

The new uniforms certainly look smart and nurses’ comments about the need for both scrubs and dresses with pockets, as well as the importance of more breathable material have evidently been heard. It remains to be seen whether the aspiration of easy role recognition that lies behind the revamp will be achieved.

Flavia Munn is Nursing Standard editor