London British hospitals are banning neckties, long sleeves and jewelry for doctors - and their traditional white coats - in an effort to stop the spread of deadly hospital-borne infections, according to new rules published Monday.
Hospital dress codes typically urge doctors to look professional, which, for male practitioners, has usually meant wearing a tie. But as concern over hospital-borne infections has intensified, doctors are taking a closer look at their clothing.
"Ties are rarely laundered but worn daily," the Department of Health said in a statement. "They perform no beneficial function in patient care and have been shown to be colonized by pathogens."
The new regulations taking effect next year mean an end to doctors' traditional long-sleeved white coats, Health Secretary Alan Johnson said. Fake nails, jewelry and watches, which the department warned could harbor germs, are also out.
Johnson said the "bare below the elbows" dress code would help prevent the spread of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, the deadly bacteria resistant to nearly every available antibiotic.
Popularly known as a "superbug," MRSA accounts for more than 40 percent of in-hospital blood infections in Britain. Because the bacteria is so hard to kill, health care workers have instead focused on containing its spread through improvements to hospital hygiene.
A 2004 study of doctors' neckties at a New York hospital found nearly half of them carried at least one species of infectious microbe. In 2006, the British Medical Association urged doctors to go without the accessories, calling them "functionless clothing items."
Infection control societies in the U.S. don't recommend similar dress restrictions because there is no strong evidence that health care workers who don't wear ties or jewelry reduce the risk of infection, said Dr. James Steinberg, an Emory University infectious disease specialist.
Steinberg said that doctors and nurses who don't adequately wash their hands pose a far bigger risk to patients and that hand-washing should be the focus of infection control efforts in hospitals.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does have guidelines advising doctors and nurses against wearing artificial nails in operating rooms and around high-risk patients. It says there is evidence that health care workers who wear fake nails have more germs on their fingertips both before and after hand-washing than those with natural nails.