Nurses 'deliberately damaging' uniforms to get new ones

By Eleanor Bradford
BBC Scotland Health Correspondent

image captionThe new range of NHS uniforms was launched in Scotland last year

NHS staff are going to extraordinary lengths to get hold of the new tunic-style uniform, the BBC has learned.

BBC Scotland has seen an internal e-mail asking managers to put an end to the "antics" of those trying to get their hands on the new kit.

The BBC understands some staff have been deliberately damaging old uniforms or losing them to get the new ones.

NHS Grampian said staff may have been trying to "jump the queue" but no-one had been disciplined.

The e-mail was circulated by Nursing Services Manager Frances Dunne on 9 July, but was originally written by a staff member named Stephen.

It states: "The new National uniform is proving to be very popular and as a consequence some NHS Grampian staff are going to extraordinary lengths to obtain it.

"Whilst for the most part the behaviours of uniformed staff and their managers - at all levels - may be described as 'antics', some are negligent, dishonest and in a number of extreme cases, fraudulent."

The new NHS Scotland uniform was launched a year ago to replace more than 250 previously-used varieties.

It comprises just one style of tunic, which is available in seven colours depending on the job of the wearer.

The e-mail says that sewing room staff will now request an old uniform for a new one and will check that returned uniforms have lasted as long as expected.

'Popular choice'

It warns that if staff do not change their behaviour their "conduct" will be investigated.

NHS Grampian said no-one had been disciplined.

A spokeswoman said: "In Grampian our priority is to our new starts, then those who have waited longest.

"It seems, however, that some staff are so anxious to obtain the new uniform that they have been trying to jump the queue."

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: "We are pleased that the new uniform is proving so popular and it will be rolled out to all staff by 2012."

A NHS staff member who responded to the BBC news website story said: "I work for the said trust, and I have heard stories about staff 'pretending' to lose uniforms to have the new style ones, if a qualified nurse was doing his/her job correctly then they would know that an apron should be worn when doing certain jobs, so I feel that the comments about them being unhygienic do not stand true."


Wow, As an American nurse, I find the uniform issue unusual. In the vast majority of American Hospitals, Nursing Homes, and Doctor's Offices we buy our own uniform. Most of us wear scrubs. There are very few areas that have mandatory uniforms, usually surgery (theater) and Labor and Delivery. We pick the color and style and most of them are tunic style tops. I have not had a problem with getting contaminated when removing the tops. I work in the Emergency Room so I get my share of bodily fluid projected at me. I guess it depends on what you are used to doing. Kind of surprised me that there could be much controversy over clothing. But that could just be cultural.

From: Casey in the US

Ha...this article is actually quite funny and very true. I work for the said Trust, and I have heard stories about staff 'pretending' to lose uniforms to have the new style ones, if a qualified nurse was doing his/hers job correctly then they would know that a apron should be worn when doing certain jobs, so I feel that the comments about them being unhygienic do not stand true. The problem I have with them is when a man wears them staff and patients can see their chest hair which I personally think is unprofessional! I also think that nurses take great pride in the colour of their uniforms and when policy states that a Band 5 nurse will wear the same colour as the Band 8 that's wrong, only ward sisters get the dark blue uniform which in my views underestimates the role of a Band 8.

From: Anonymous in Grampian

I'm not medical staff, but I think this story is a spin to make the Scottish Government look good in their choice of uniforms - which, from what I already know are not that popular with NHS staff.

From: Anonymous in Glasgow

As a student nurse, I don't think the new uniforms are a good idea, patients and relatives get confused enough as it is distinguishing between Nurses, Auxiliaries, Medical Assistants, Phlebotomists etc, the list is endless. With only seven different colours available, are all members of staff going to be accommodated? No. Thus causing further confusion. Also are doctors included within this new uniform, as some departments wear scrubs and some don't. This uniform wouldn't be suitable to certain departments such as theatres, as scrubs are worn and are sterile, and if this uniform was to be placed into theatres then that would be a huge cost on the NHS. This new uniform is also another expense the NHS doesn't need right now, it is meant to be making cuts and saving, and pouring money into new uniforms is not the way to provide the best care for patients. My biggest bugbear with these uniforms, is they do not make me think of nurses when I see them. Nurses in my view should wear hats, so hair is off the face and uniform, and have permanent starched aprons and dresses, as they use to. They were recognisable as a caring profession back when this uniform was in place, and although society and the NHS have both moved forward, I think it still has a place in today hospitals. I stand by the saying - If it isn't broken, then why are you trying to fix it?

From: Emily in Southampton

We did have some stock in Wales of the new uniforms but a lot of nurses got burns and rashes from the new material. The Welsh assembly withdrew the uniforms for more checks and we can either return them to be destroyed or if they are ok with us we can use them. Some have no pockets so a lot of staff use bum bags which look terrible. Hope they get their act together and let us all look and feel the same. A child was sick over me and I had to pull the top over my head and get sick in my hair not very nice.

From: Julian in Newport, Gwent

What a waste of money! And at a time of drastic cuts. Used to be a midwife, and dressed in shrubs on Unit. Clean on at start of shift and into hospital wash at end of shift. Very hygienic to wear uniform off hospital premises. New uniform is a hygiene issue due to poor design and inappropriate due to low cut front. Also, how can you tell which health professional and their grade ie. Sister or staff nurse? I'm sure NHS staff were consulted on ALL aspects of new uniform - hahaha!

From: Lizzie in Cardiff

Just a quick comment, if, as most people have mentioned, the new uniforms are useless and unhygenic......why on earth are hospital staff so keen to ruin their old uniforms to get their hands on the new one?

From: N Davies in Cardiff

Don't like the new uniform and what a waste of money in the day of cut backs and as previously said it is impossible to remove your uniform if it has been soiled by vomit over your heard without getting contaminated yourself it is not always predictable that a patient will vomit or bleed.

From: Anne in Ayrshire

I have to agree with Peter from Edinburgh about fluid spills and gaping views down the front. I am still on the old style uniform and in no rush to change over to the new style. Having to pull a tunic over your head with fluid contamination on it is disgusting and a major flaw in the design of the new tunics.

From: Nicola in Motherwell

As a member of nursing staff, I can say that the opinion amongst my colleagues is that the entire scheme is a waste of money, in a time when jobs are being cut. Various classes of job are being lumped together under the same colour bands, lowering ability to identify them, which is totally counter-intuitive. Waste of time.

From: John in Dundee

This seems to me to be another occasion where higher management have decided to change something without consulting the workforce. If consultations had taken place why were the health and safety issues not realised. I presume that this was a quick cost cutting scheme, and like many companies this type of decision will come back to bite them. It will create further costs when these uniforms are undoubtedly changed again. We have a wonderful group of nurses in this country and they need to be happy and not disenchanted because of silly mistakes.

From: Jonathan in Southwold, Suffolk

As a staff nurse I'm really not looking forward to getting the new uniforms. Yes they are maybe nicer to look at but from what i've heard they are completely impractical. There are no zips and therefore have to be put on and taken off over the head, which after a long 12 hour shift is not the most hygienic. Also I've heard if your unfortunate enough to get something spilled onto the uniform - which happens on a regular occasion then the tunic has to be cut off, surely a huge waste of money? The other big issue I have with the new tunics is there is no top pocket to keep pens/pen torches or scissors in and therefore will have to keep them in over waist pockets, surely a risk when we're constantly bending down dealing with patients. Another issue is that patients often have difficulty knowing who does which job. With the new uniforms all Allied Health Professionals (physios, dietitians, radiographers etc) all have the same uniforms, surely making it even more difficult for patients. Although I'm sure it's not the case it appears that someone with absolutely no experience in working in a hospital has designed and sanctioned the new uniforms. I'll be holding onto my old one as long as I can!

From: Kathryn in Ayrshire

Uniforms aren't PPE (personal protective equipment). If there's any risk of splashing, plastic aprons and gloves are the thing. If you wear a T-shirt under any uniform (as I do) and you get contaminated, that would be a health & safety risk too in terms of some of these comments. There was a huge consultation process with NHS staff about the new uniforms before they were bought - how come none of these problems were raised before the money was spent?

From: Peter in Edinburgh

The new uniforms are very annoying previously with the older styles you could unzip them and step out of it if soiling with blood or body fluids occurred now you have to pull it over your head meaning anything spilled on the new uniform is more likely to touch your face. They also gape at the front when you lean over allowing people to see down your top... not nice.

From: Gemma in Glasgow

I used to work in a medical research establishment that provided workwear: it was a sterile unit so there was no question of taking clothes off the premises. We had to collect a new tunic & trousers each morning and leave them in the laundry bin each evening, for a constant turnover of washing. There was no variety of garments and each garment was very size-tolerant, so there was no issue of having to wait for a particular item. I find it incredible that staff would have to be measured individually for something as basic as a tunic! Oh yes and my experience was in the last recession, so my employer certainly wasn't pursuing an expense-no-object option.

From: Liz in London

I think the uniforms need to look a little more professional. These nurses look like cooks. I was brought up seeing a Registered Nurse wearing the white uniform and the funny batwinged hat. There was a lot more respect for them too. Now we are scorned, mocked, blulied and teased and I dare say it is because we here in Australia look like someone off the street. There is little respect for RN's now. I think Australian uniforms are so tacky looking.

From: Marilyn in Adelaide, South Australia

Are we the only country who would consider disciplining staff who are showing their loyalty and pride in their job by wanting to wear one of the new uniforms? We should be pleased that this is the case and try to do more in terms of rolling out the new style uniform to all as soon as possible.

From: Peter in Hatfield

The sizing of the new uniform is bizzare. I am a standard size 10 however the small is far too big for me and the extra small too tight! at my own expense I am forced to have them altered! Give me back my old well fitting tunic any day! The trousers were supplied non-hemmed (I am not 6ft!) and again I was forced to pay to have them altered. The winter jacket offered in a small (extra small not available!) was so huge it reached my knees and the smaller alternative is a glorified cagoulle not suitable for a Scottish winter! What an insult!

From: R Murray in Glasgow

From what I've read they are making a big deal over nothing. My dad was a nurse ages ago (caring for the elderly) and so he must have had them being sick and having to change them, I think he had an old tunic on so he had to keep washing it to go back into work.

From: Hannah in Kirkcaldy

We haven't been forced yet to all wear the same thing nationwide. There would probably be anarchy.

From: Melinda in the US

Well I think this is just rubbish and managers should do something more important. Everyone I know who has the new uniform hates it. The trousers are ill fitting and uncomfortable. Perhaps staff are needing new uniforms cos their uniforms really are falling apart, its not exactly easy to have them replaced in the first place. Let's report the important NHS issues and uniforms are right down the list of priorities. Believe me it's not what staff are talking about.

From: Sylvia

Are uniforms not needed for the job, and do they not get a allowance for uniforms or the chance to maybe purchase new uniforms at a reduced rate. But there is the new thing of uniforms stolen to order for fake nurses etc .

From: Anonymous in London

The old style uniforms weren't exactly robust. Because we have to launder them ourselves they don't last, the material on my uniforms formed holes in certain areas - not very professional looking. In some branches of Nursing, scrubs would be much more practical, not just for Theatre, A&E and Labour ward midwives but Neonatal nurses as well.

From: Donna in Glasgow

My girlfriend is a nurse in Greater Glasgow.

She has only 2 or 3 uniforms which are old and baubled. They are an unflattering design and hers are too big for her.

She regularly has to launder uniforms after a shift when she works consecutive shifts or overtime. She has tried to get additional uniforms (months ago, before these new ones came out) and found it difficult. In fact impossible, as she still hasn't got them.

The uniforms she has are good quality and clearly made to last a long time, but surely nurses should be given more than 2 or 3 uniforms - whether a new style or not.

Hopefully nurses who are given the new uniform get more than 2 or 3, or at least have an option to buy additional uniforms for their own convenience if it is not deemed 'essential' to get 4 uniforms. And they should also have the option of wearing old uniforms to save doing laundry during consecutive 12 hour shifts.

From: Grant in Glasgow

I started recently and had to wait 7 weeks to be measured and a further 6 weeks to be provided with the new uniform. It does not fit very well but is functional. At present nurses will not be provided the new style uniforms unless they have had their current uniform for more than 3 years in Greater Glasgow and Clyde. This has led to many nurses wearing tatty uniforms with burst seems and stains left by bodily, medicinal or cleaning fluids.

From: Richard in Glasgow

My previous trousers were worn through and only wanted new trousers as my tunics were not too bad, but I was told I could not have trousers without the tunics. The new trousers have pointless pockets and don't fit well especially on the waist and tunics are okay but again are not a good fit so nothing to shout about. I certainly would not have gone to any extreme lengths to get them!

From: Julie in Kirkcaldy

I am a relative of a nurse and to be honest this article suspires me as every nurse I've spoken to (many) has had nothing but complaints to make about the uniform.

The old uniform could be unzipped down the front if the wearer needed to remove it. This new "tunic" needs to be brought over the head to remove it. So, imagine a patient has been violently sick, or there is contaminated blood down the front of the tunic. What should the nurses do? Put their tunic over their heads, risking facial contact with the vomit or blood?

So far all that has been happening is that the nurse simply cuts themselves out of it - this in turn wastes the uniform, money and time, but the nurses have no choice if they want to avoid becoming ill themselves.

I think that in this day and age this uniform is a waste of money and is an EXTREME health risk on the part of the members of staff that are being forced to wear them.

From: Scott

This is ridiculous. How selfish of these staff members. Perfectly serviceable uniforms getting destroyed. In some hospitals uniforms and scrubs are in such short supply that sometimes staff are forced to share!

I'm a radiographer in a large NHS trust in England. It took about 3 months for my uniform to arrive. Some new staff wear the uniform they were supplied as students, a student uniform essentially. But the University I trained at requested my uniform back otherwise it may have delayed my graduation.

So for 3 months I had to borrow another man's tunic.I only had one and had to wear it all week and only wash it when I had the next day off in order that it could dry.I had to wash it myself because the laundry service we are supposed to use have a 3 day turnaround.

I have been in to theatre to relieve colleagues at 5pm, when there is no scrubs available in the changing rooms. My colleague has had to come out of theatre, take scrubs off, so I can put them on. He would have been sweating in them under a lead apron since 9 o'clock that morning, and now I'm going to wear them potentially all night at least until 10pm in a busy trauma theatre.

From: Anonymous

To be honest, I am more concerned with my patients to worry about my uniform. If I do have an issue about my uniform then oh well, it has to be said - more and more nurses are coming into work with dirty uniforms. There is no one to tell them that there uniform being dirty either. If you say something , even in a nice way you are accused of being bullying yet we are putting patients at risk being so filthy. One nurse I work with always has dog hairs and tomato ketchup all over her uniform and no one says a word. On the issue of nurses damaging uniforms - that is typical, it always happens. Just because we are nurses does not mean we are not wasteful and ungrateful.

From: Tegan in London

My only gripe about nurses & uniforms is they are worn off the premises to & from work picking up all sorts of germs, likewise when our angels of mercy take a ciggie break.I have thought for years that nurses uniforms should stay within the hospital & they change in & out of their civilian clothes on the hospital premises. What style the uniforms take to a patient is of no importance so long as as many as possible are on the wards.

From: Glenn in Birmingham

I'm not a fan of the new uniforms. Many female staff members have to wear a t-shirt underneath as the v neck is quite low. Also, from an infection control point of view they are not very effective, because if any bodily fluid was spilled on the uniforms; one would need to pull the uniform over their head (and face) to take it off! The old tunics are much better, I think they look smarter too.

From: Amy

I am not in the NHS but I understand the Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS are going to have to replace the new uniform for one that conforms with Health and Safety standards. The problem appears to be that it is not safe to have a uniform top that has to put on and taken off over the head.

Maybe the super new uniform isn't so super after all. My main comment is that if this is the case who is going to pay for it and what services will it impact on?

From: Bill in North Lanarkshire

I'm not a Nurse but I'd like to know if the Uniform is classed as Personal Protective Equipment? If it is then the Health Trust is legally required to provide suitable protective clothing as and when it is required. I work in the electrical industry and if our company told us we had to wait for our PPE and work wear I think we'd be having words! It smacks of typical bad planning when the NHS cannot supply the required uniform in the quantities now apparent! If the nurses are turning to methods as described I couldn't blame them!

From: Ed in Cardiff

The media is really scraping the barrel with the latest article about nurses! as a nurse myself, I know that you are generally far to busy in the day to think about customising, let alone vandalising your uniform! This new uniform is fine. It will be helpful to have a universally recognised colour code.. it will make things clearer to patients...less of the bad press for us hard working nurses please!

From: Rebecca in London

This is a news story: My Sister is a Midwife...a job which tends to be very messy by its very nature. All the Midwife's at North Devon District Hospital in Barnstaple hospital must now wash their own uniforms at home. This wrong on many please do me a favour, because the Midwifes are far too nice to complain themselves, and shame the Hospital Trust. A shame the Hospital tust,

From: Sam in Devon

Just like their managers who used to damage their computers to get new ones.

From: Tom in Devon

I would suspect that the delays has more to do with NHS Grampian cutting costs than anything else.

I notice that in total they have 36 outstanding external vacancies (including non-medical staff) and would appear to be making 10 to 15 hires a week. Whilst I appreciate that this group will be their priority, it's not a significant number and doesn't explain the delays.

If we want more evidence that this is simply a cost cutting exercise, we shouldn't forget that it was NHS Grampian who were going to ask nurses to work extra shifts for no pay only a month ago.

From: Nick in London

I think they look good, but are they practical? If they get soiled by body fluids they need to be cut off to avoid the contaminate touching the face. The old ones has buttons or zips.

From: Caz in Glasgow

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