Nurses are being encouraged to inform a new investigation into how the coronavirus pandemic has affected the way health and care staff launder their uniforms and how they feel about washing their scrubs at home.
Academics at De Montfort University Leicester are asking health and care workers to complete a new survey in a bid to uncover any changes in laundering practices that may have occurred in response to Covid-19.
The investigation is being led by Dr Katie Laird (pictured above and right), reader in microbiology and head of the infectious disease research group at the university.
It comes after Dr Laird had suggested in April that uniforms should be washed in hospitals or by an industrial laundry to minimise the risk of contamination and transmission of Covid-19.
The survey will quiz staff on how they have been washing their uniforms, whether they have enough uniforms to wear a freshly laundered one at the start of every shift and if their employer offers in-house or industrial laundering.
It also asks about the detergent and temperature staff use when washing their uniform or scrubs and whether staff change out of their uniforms after a shift.
Those working on the study include Dr Laird, Dr Natalia Stanulewicz, Lindsay Apps, Dr Lucy Owen and Dr Andrew Hall.
The researchers said that the survival of coronavirus pathogens during laundering is currently unknown and that it was not clear if industrial washing was being offered to all nurses across the country.
“The survey has been launched in order to understand healthcare workers attitudes and behaviours towards the home laundering of their uniforms during the Covid-19 pandemic,” Dr Laird told Nursing Times.
“This is important because, although there has been a move towards industrial laundering of scrubs/uniforms during the pandemic, many NHS nurses and healthcare workers outside of the NHS are still home laundering their uniforms at home, despite maybe having come into contact with the virus.”
She said the researchers wanted to “understand how healthcare workers feel about this issue and give them a chance to voice their opinions”.
Dr Laird had previously written to the government to flag concerns about guidance that states industrial laundering should be used, but where it was not possible, health workers should take uniforms home in a disposable plastic bag.
The Public Health Education guidance, dating from April, states: “Healthcare laundry services should be used to launder staff uniforms.
“If there is no laundry facility available, then uniforms should be transported home in a disposable plastic bag. This bag should be disposed of into the household waste stream.”
It added that uniforms should be laundered separately from other household linen, in a load not more than half the machine capacity and at the maximum temperature the fabric can tolerate.
But taking uniforms home to be washed meant health workers “run the risk of contaminating their home environment”, Dr Laird said at the time.
In addition, she raised concerns over updated NHS England uniform and workwear guidelines published on 2 April.
But the PHE guidance said that, based on scientific observations and tests, literature reviews and expert opinion, there was “little effective difference between domestic and commercial laundering in terms of removing micro-organisms from uniforms and workwear”.
In addition, it stated that “washing with detergents at 30°C will remove most micro-organisms, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)” and that a “10-minute wash at 60°C is sufficient to remove almost all micro-organisms”.
However, Dr Laird had flagged that more recent publications than those cited by PHE in its guidance had indicated that domestic washing was not a sufficient way of decontaminating healthcare laundry.
The survey can be found here and should take no longer than 10 minutes to complete.