Academics have called for national guidelines on washing nurse uniforms, after research revealed almost half of hospital staff are failing to clean them at temperatures hot enough to kill most bacteria.
Researchers from De Montfort University in Leicester found 49% of hospital staff did not wash their uniforms at the recommended 60°C temperature. They surveyed 265 hospital staff at four East Midlands hospitals.
“The study highlights the importance of research in this area to determine… whether a return to in-house laundering is the most appropriate solution”
The Department of Health released guidance in 2010 stating that uniforms should be washed at the highest temperature suitable for the fabric and that a 10-minute wash at 60°C is sufficient to remove most microorganisms.
However, the temperature requirements set by each hospital varied, ranging from a minimum of 50 degrees to 75 degrees.
The study also revealed that many staff were failing to follow guidelines across a range of others areas in relation to cleaning their uniforms, which the researchers said could increase the risk of spreading healthcare-associated infections.
It found varying and “imprecise” advice was being provided between hospital trusts, which may be adding to confusion for staff who move to different organisations.
To tackle this inconsistency, the researchers have also recommended uniform washing is moved back to hospitals, rather than workers doing it themselves at home.
The study found that 40% of those surveyed were cleaning their uniforms with everyday clothes, although there were differences between different departments. Staff working in infectious areas – such as surgical wards, critical care units and emergency departments – were more likely to launder their uniforms separately than those in non-infectious departments.
Again, the hospital guidelines varied, with two stating that uniforms should be washed separately from other items and the other two providing no set requirement.
Meanwhile, around three-quarters of respondents said they cleaned their uniforms following every shift, while 23% reported only changing their uniform after every other shift. In addition, 3% said they changed their uniform after three shifts or more.
This is despite guidelines set by three out of the four hospitals stating that uniforms should be changed daily.
Two thirds of respondents either rarely or never tumble-dried their uniforms, which is against three of the hospital’s guidelines which recommend tumble-drying or drying quickly, added the researchers.
The study also found uniforms were commonly – in 78% of cases – used for more than 18 months before being replaced.
The researchers concluded that “the DH guidelines that have filtered down to hospital trusts are imprecise”.
“The development of national guidelines for domestic laundering of healthcare uniforms would ensure greater clarity for staff on how to launder their uniforms, especially when transferring to a different hospital trust,” it added.
Report co-author Kate Riley, a PhD student at the university, said: “The study highlights the importance of research in this area to determine the overall effectiveness of domestic laundering and deciding whether a return to in-house laundering is the most appropriate solution.”