Nurses’ uniform: is it time to ditch the dress for good?

Scrubs have been worn widely by nursing staff during the pandemic, with many favouring them over dresses – and this experience may inform decisions about a standardised uniform in England

Nurses in Wales have been wearing standardised uniforms for some time Picture: Jay Williams

How difficult has it been to identify your own colleagues over the past year?

Masks and visors combined with staff redeployment have made scrawling names and roles on gowns or headwear a necessity for those working in teams with direct patient contact.

Nationally standardised uniform

Working out who’s who in healthcare has been a perennial issue for patients faced with a plethora of different coloured and styles of uniform.

An independent survey for NHS Supply Chain, which is responsible for the purchase of items such as uniforms, found 79% of patients believe a ‘strongly defined’ uniform would help them to identify key workers.

Our own Nursing Standard surveys have shown nurses’ support for a national uniform in England with 82% (1,684) of respondents to a poll in January 2020 favouring a common uniform. NHS employers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are ahead of the garment game, having had standardised uniforms for almost a decade.

So, the relaunch of a consultation on a national uniform for staff in England – postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic – is welcome news for all, especially as it can now consider the lessons learned from garments worn during the pandemic.

Have dresses had their day?

More money was spent on scrubs during COVID-19, accounting for 70% of overall uniform spend in March to May 2019/20, compared to 11% over the same period the previous year. Many nurses prefer this option, according to our own survey and workshops run by the National Healthcare Uniform Project consultation.

The already-standardised NHS uniforms in Scotland and Wales do not provide for dresses, yet pre-Covid these made up a significant proportion (12%) of demand in England’s health service.

Could it be time to ditch the dress once and for all and create an updated, distinctive, breathable uniform that meets the modern profession’s many challenging demands? Can one style fit all and nursing’s identity today? Join in the debate on Twitter and Facebook.

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