NGH to bring back white coats after patients did not realise they had seen a doctor

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Some doctors at Northampton General Hospital will be asked to don their white coats again after worries that they cause infections were dismissed.

The return of the traditional medical garb to Northampton wards comes after two in three NGH patients said they did not know whether they had seen a doctor.

As a result, and to boost patients’ understanding of their hospital stay, junior doctors will have to wear the coats by the end of the year. Dr Michael Cusack, the hospital’s medical director, stated in the latest board papers: “It is clear that many staff do not introduce themselves - or if they do, do not explain their role.

“Quite a number of patients also are confused by so many different people asking the same questions; we clearly have work to do to assist patients so that they understand who all the staff are and what they are there to do.”

When the Department of Health produced guidance on dress code known as the ‘bare below the elbow’ policy in 2007, white coats became obsolete for medical staff.

But Dr Cusack said there had been no direct evidence that this reduced hospital infection rates.

It has, however, “inadvertently contributed to a medical workforce that can look unprofessional”, he said.

Foundation Year 1 doctors will be provided with white coats at induction starting from August, with all doctors-in-training expected to be wearing them in patient-facing areas by the end of 2015.

The coats will include a colour to designate training grade and experience, and the word ‘doctor’ will be emblazoned on the back.

The dress code reversal will be part of a three-pronged attack on improving patient patient experience, along with the electronic Vital Pac communication device - which will be carried in a doctor’s coat pocket so they can respond quickly to alerts - and the ‘Hello my name is…’ campaign.

The latter is a national NHS drive to encourage all staff to introduce themselves to patients each time they come to their bed.