HSE says staff clothes pose no infection risk
The HSE has said that while the public believes uniforms or work clothes worn by health service personnel pose a risk of spreading infection, there is no conclusive evidence that they pose a significant hazard. However, it said the public did not like seeing hospital staff wearing their uniforms or work clothes outside the workplace.
In a lengthy reply to a parliamentary question on whether the wearing of loose clothes by healthcare staff, including neck ties and white coats, constituted a risk of spreading hospital-acquired infections, the HSE said this was not supported by evidence.
In the reply to Fine Gael deputy Patrick O’Donovan, HSE assistant national director Kevin Kelleher said that although it had been hypothesised that contaminated clothing was a potential vehicle for pathogen transmission, “no studies have demonstrated the transfer of micro-organisms from uniforms to patients in the clinical situation”.
Dr Kelleher set out existing HSE advice and guidelines to staff working in hospitals around the State in relation to clothing and infection control. He said the wearing of ties was “personal rather than infection-control matters”.
“Standard professional practice includes regular laundering of white coats as with any item of personal clothing and, if wearing a tie, when examining a patient to tuck the tie into the shirt [between buttons] to avoid it draping over the patient.”
Dr Kelleher said the HSE’s national uniform guidelines set out the standards for uniforms in clinical areas. He said guidelines for the prevention of healthcare-associated infection recommended that standard principles for infection control were key to protecting patients and staff from cross-contamination with micro-organisms.
“Uniforms and other work clothing should not be regarded as personal protective clothing and plastic aprons or other personal protective clothing must be used to protect uniform/work clothing from contamination during patient care activities as per local infection prevention and control guidelines.
“Uniform/clothing that becomes obviously contaminated with organic soil, such as blood or other body substances, must be changed for a clean uniform as soon as practicable; and uniforms/work clothing should be washed/cleaned according to the manufacturer’s instructions . . . Hands must be washed after removing uniforms or protective clothing in every case.”
Dr Kelleher said staff visiting or working in several areas of a hospital should ensure good infection prevention and control procedures were always followed. He said staff should change uniforms if they had been working in an environment that could pose a threat of cross-contamination.