Nursing uniforms are integral to the job, both for hygiene and for identification purposes, arguably more than in almost any other profession.
Yet despite the obvious necessity of their uniform, many nurses have to pay to clean and maintain their work-wear in their own time and at their own expense.
When it comes to uniform, there is surprisingly little consistency across different workplaces. Some hospitals impose a strict colour coding system – navy for the ward sisters, light blue for the nurses – whereas others allow staff to dress in whichever colours and patterns they like. Some provide uniforms, while others expect you to purchase them yourself.
There is also inconsistency in terms of laundry facilities. Some workplaces provide nurses with laundry rooms, whereas others ask nurses to take their uniforms home with them to wash in their own time and at their own expense.
After a long shift, laundry should be the last thing on a nurse’s mind. Cleaning 12 hours’ worth of blood, sweat and tears from their clothing is akin to taking your work home with you. Not only is this time-consuming and expensive but, more importantly, unhygienic. This is because domestic washing machines do not always reach high enough temperatures to effectively kill bacteria. There is also the risk of cross-contamination between hospital laundry and the home. In fact, according to an article in Nursing Times, “Britain is almost the only European country to allow home-washed uniforms to be worn by nurses”.
However, for nurses who do wash their uniforms at home, many find that regularly washing at high temperatures takes its toll on their energy bills. This problem is compounded by the fact that some nurses are provided with black and white garments that must be washed separately, effectively doubling the expense.
Some nurses get around this problem by buying many pairs of scrubs in an attempt to eke out the time between washes: some own as many as 18 – 20 pairs, according to a forum on AllNurses.com. Consider that the average price of a scrub top is £7 and £15 - £20 for anti-microbial scrub trousers, this quickly adds up.
As nursing is a public service, it is only right that the taxpayer, not the nurse, should pay for their uniforms. Indeed, the government provides healthcare workers with an annual allowance of £140 to cover uniform costs – more than double the average allowance of £60.
However, due to tax office errors or incorrect tax codes, thousands of pounds go unclaimed every year by nurses unaware that a mistake has been made.
According to NHSTaxRefund.co.uk, if you have been paying for your nursing uniform out of your own pocket, you might be eligible to claim a tax refund. Since this refund can be backdated by almost five years, you might be owed up to £350 (depending on your tax band).
Until there is consistency across all workplaces with regards to nurse uniforms, it is a case of putting pressure on boards to provide uniforms and laundry facilities at all workplaces wherever possible. If you must purchase and wash your own uniform, there is financial support available.
Vikki Geary is a freelance writer