'Only nurses working in low risk areas are allowed to wear their uniforms from home.' DHA Image Credit: Illustrative purpose

DUBAI Days after the Ministry of Health clamped down on doctors wearing lab coats outside hospitals and clinics in the UAE, the widespread practice of nurses wearing their uniforms in public spaces has raised concerns.

On July 13, the Ministry of Health issued a notice to doctors and other medical practitioners, asking them to abide by rules that clearly state that they cannot wear their lab coats in public places. Despite several circulars issued earlier, it was found that there were many violations.

International studies were cited to show that lab coats can spread diseases if medical practitioners wear them while running errands or in other public areas. It was established that samples from lab coats, specifically sleeves and pockets, contained large quantities of contagious germs.

As it turns out, the ministry’s warning has sparked a public debate on whether nurses should also abstain from wearing uniforms outside healthcare facilities.

“Scrubs on the streets can be a huge health hazard. Pathogens found on these protective garments worn by doctors and nurses in an operating room or even an outpatient clinic can potentially infect someone if they are worn elsewhere. There is also the risk of bringing infections from outside into the hospital,” said a doctor who did not want to be named.

“We routinely see nurses travelling to and from their workplaces in their uniforms. We can find them everywhere – walking on the streets, riding the Metro, shopping in supermarkets and even in the malls. This is not a good thing,” said Krishna Manohar, a concerned resident.

What do the rules say?

A spokesperson for Dubai Health Authority (DHA) told XPRESS: “At DHA hospitals, all nurses follow special precautions for high risk areas and operating theatres (OTs). Nurses who visit the OT have special outfits that are laundered by the DHA and the nurses cannot even wear this out of the OT.”

She said: “Only nurses working in low risk areas are allowed to wear their uniforms from home. However, outside of the work environment, they can only wear their uniform to commute from work to home and vice-versa but not in public places like malls etc. At DHA, we follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) infection control standards and all our nurses are thoroughly educated about hygiene and infection control and they abide by the rules.”

It is the same policy in most private hospitals and clinics.

At Mediclinic Middle East, which runs City Hospital and Welcare Hospital besides a string of clinics, Marianne Gerstner, group patient safety and risk officer, said: “Our 870 nurses are expected to come to work and leave work in their uniforms. If the uniform becomes contaminated, the nurse changes immediately into a clean uniform.”

Disciplinary action

However, she said nurses and clinical staff who work in the operating room wear special uniforms that are laundered by Mediclinic and not worn outside the operating room complex to minimise contamination.

“This rule is taken very seriously and violations are met with disciplinary action. Doctors and auxiliary staff who use lab coats do not wear them in public. These coats are laundered daily by Mediclinic. Clinical staff are also strongly urged not to wear a tie,” she said.

“Other infection control practices include hand hygiene campaigns, personal protective equipment in all areas where there is a risk of infection, implementation and audits of infection control policies and procedures. All clinical staff must attend an annual infection control update to ensure they are familiar with current practices. We also do internal and international benchmarking of our infection control rates. These are published annually and are currently below international standards,” she added.

Dr Rajkumar B. Nair, director of the private Unicare Medical Centre is Bur Dubai said: “Ideally, nurses should not be wearing their uniforms outside their workplaces as they can pick up germs and spread them. If there is a move to (ban) nurses wearing their uniforms outside the workplace, I would strongly welcome it.”

The nursing community is a divided lot. Some fear that they would end up working longer hours if they can’t wear their uniforms from home.

“If I had to change at my clinic, it would mean reaching work half an hour earlier. Similarly, I would be leaving half an hour later,” said a nurse working in a private clinic in Bur Dubai.

But another nurse said: “Uniforms should be used only within clinics and hospitals. And it’s not just about our clothes, it applies to everything we wear, including our shoes and other accessories. Clinics should provide us sufficient changing rooms and lockers.”


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