Britain bans doctors' coats to battle superbug

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LONDON (Reuters Life!), Sep 18 - Long-sleeved white coats, favored by physicians for decades, are set to be banned under a shake-up of Britain's state-run National Health Service (NHS) aimed at tackling hospital superbugs.

Under a "bare below the elbow" dress code unveiled by Health Secretary Alan Johnson, every doctor, nurse, and therapist will also be banned from wearing watches, jewelry such as rings and bracelets, and neckties.

The aim is to stamp out deadly infections plaguing the NHS such as Clostridium difficile -- C.Diff -- and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

The long-sleeved coats -- already being phased out in many hospitals -- will go because of the danger of the cuffs carrying bacteria to patients.

Johnson said he was "determined to ensure that patient safety remained the NHS's number one priority."

"Today's package will ... set guidelines on clothing that will help ensure thorough hand washing and prevent the spread of infections," he added.

Experts have said that up to two-thirds of doctors do not wash their hands properly.

Other rules, to be implemented by the end of the year include quarantining patients suffering from a superbug and giving nursing staff the right to report directly to hospital boards four times a year to ensure their efforts are not overlooked by managers.

Health bosses will also face a legal obligation to detail any superbug outbreaks or face massive fines.

The moves come after a report found British hospitals were among the worst in Europe for superbugs, behind countries such as Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic.

Latest figures show that C.Diff was a factor in more than 3,800 deaths across the country while MRSA contributed to 1,650 deaths caused by hospital-acquired infections -- although rates are on the decline.

While medical groups welcomed the changes, brought about after a review ordered by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, opposition parties criticized them as weak.

Tory health spokesman Mike Penning said the government had "failed miserably" to combat the rate of infections.

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said failed hygiene standards were "akin to gross misconduct" and that a "zero-tolerance approach" had to be implemented.

By Andrew Hough

Last Updated: 2007-09-17 9:01:45 -0400 (Reuters Health)

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