Colours unveiled for national NHS uniform in England

The colours for new NHS uniform, which distinguishes staff by healthcare profession, have been revealed – but some nurses say the choices are “confusing”.

NHS Supply Chain has this week unveiled which professions will get which colour in the new nationally standardised uniform for clinical workers in the health service in England.

The NHS National Healthcare Uniform, which has been in consultation for years, will begin to be rolled out from early next year with the decision to use it up to each trust.

There are 15 “colourways” representing different clinical professions, and a further 12 trim colours for allied health professionals, including therapists, dieticians, osteopaths and others.

However, some nurses have expressed frustration and confusion about the new scheme.

Professor Alison Leary, professor of healthcare and workforce modelling, pointed out the lack of a specific ‘registered nurse’ category.

In NHS Supply Chain’s Colourways, there are categories for ‘nurse’, ‘nursing associate’, and ‘nursing practitioner’, as well as ‘matron’, ‘team leader’ and ‘advanced practitioner’.

Currently, only ‘registered nurse’ is protected by law for use by those with the right qualifications and registration, although Professor Leary and others are campaigning for ‘nurse’ to be protected too.

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Speaking on the social media platform X (formerly Twitter), Professor Leary queried what a ‘nursing practitioner’ is, and added: “Nurse is a title literally anyone can use. Even with no registration or nursing qualifications.

“What is a ‘nursing practitioner’? How do patients and other staff know who is leading care? There is no ward sister/CN/DN equivalent yet this comes up time and again in inquiries.”

Dr Crystal Oldman, chief executive of the Queen’s Nursing Institute, added: “I don’t think this can be right. Where is registered nurse and what is a nursing practitioner? [This] can’t be the full story.”

Registered nurse Catherine Gavin, also on X, said: “Nurse? You couldn’t make this stuff up – we are registered nurses.”

Others pointed out the lack of a specific category for consultant nurses.

Doctors – who are not required to wear uniforms at all times in hospital – are not included in the colourways.

The new uniform design may be adopted by trusts from early 2024, NHS Supply Chain said, after a lengthy project which began in 2019.

Standardised colours for clinical professionals have been in place in Scotland and Wales for over a decade.

The design is a smart scrub top, a design choice voted on during the consultation.

This consultation, which concluded in 2021, found that 88% of nursing staff said they were in favour of a standardised uniform, with professions distinguished by colour.

Of the more than 50,000 respondents to the consultation, 86% of nursing staff said they felt the uniform should be mandatory for all NHS trusts in England.

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NHS Supply Chain said the uniform would create a “coherent and recognisable system” across the NHS, and that the colourways were chosen to “resonate nationally”.

Kevin Chidlow, director for NHS Supply Chain, NHS Facilities and Office Solutions said: “I would like to thank everyone who has engaged with us for your enthusiasm and patience.

More on the national uniform project 

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