Off with the sleeves as battle of the superbug begins

The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK, battling to control the spread of superbugs like MRSA, will in future ban the signature long-sleeved white coats, favoured by doctors.

The ban which is part of an NHS shake-up aimed at tackling hospital superbugs will also include watches, jewellery such as rings and bracelets, and neckties.

The "bare below the elbow" dress-code has been unveiled by Health Secretary Alan Johnson, and applies to every doctor, nurse and therapist.

The aim is to stamp out the deadly infections plaguing the National Health system such as Clostridium difficile (C.Diff) and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

The long-sleeved coats are already being phased out in many hospitals because of the danger of the cuffs carrying bacteria to patients.

Other measures to be implemented by the end of the year, include quarantining patients suffering from a superbug.

Hospitals are to receive new clinical guidance about isolating patients who do become infected with C.difficile or MRSA which will mean more single rooms being used and more "cohort nursing" - where patients suffering from the same infection are nursed together.

Nurses and matrons will have the right to report directly to hospital boards four times a year to ensure their efforts are not overlooked by managers.

Chief executives will be legally required to report all MRSA and C.difficile infections to the HPA and will commit an offence and be fined if they fail to do so.

Experts say that up to two-thirds of doctors do not wash their hands properly so a "cleanyourhands" campaign will be launched.

The campaign is aimed at ambulances, primary care, mental health and care trusts, and care homes and hospices and will be piloted in 19 "pioneer" organisations throughout England and Wales.

A report which found British hospitals were among the worst in Europe for superbugs, and fell behind countries such as Slovakia, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, prompted the bans and new rules.

The latest figures show that C.difficile was a factor in more than 3,800 deaths across the country while MRSA contributed to 1,650 deaths caused by hospital-acquired infections.

Medical groups have welcomed the changes, brought about after a review ordered by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, but opposition parties have criticised them as weak saying failed hygiene standards were "akin to gross misconduct" and that a "zero-tolerance approach" had to be implemented.

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