Blog: Gown fit for town?

Simon Warburton | 26 March 2010

Designer Ben de Lisi with the new NHS gown

Designer Ben de Lisi with the new NHS gown

Word reaches us that the UK department of health, in collaboration with the Design Council, has come up with a natty new hospital gown.

Launched in collaboration with the Design for Patient Dignity, the updated hospital wear replaces the ancient previous effort that countless millions have worn since what seems like the creation of the NHS in 1948.

As Design Council chief executive David Kester - unveiling a range of hospital wheezes including the gown - said: "Design for Patient Dignity demonstrates that when we listen to the public and bring frontline NHS staff together with industry, great innovation and enterprise thrive."

Well three cheers for that, although we wait to see if the "great innovation" will apply to the new outfits. Mind you, with designer Ben de Lisi behind them, maybe we're in with a fighting chance. Even health minister Ann Keen - herself a nurse - said of the old design: "I have spent years being embarrassed by asking people to wear revealing patient gowns."

Indeed. I'm sure I'm not alone in shuddering with horror at the memory of being forced into one of those so-called 'gowns.' Hospital chic they weren't.

And doesn't the very word 'gown' conjure up images of evening sophistication, a glass of something chilled or a candlelit dinner for two?

What was actually conjured up however, was a ghastly outfit that could only have been designed in interminable committees and dreamt up by a monolithic institution, that, although with the best of intentions, actually managed to embarrass the patient in a thousand excruciating ways.

And did I mention it was unisex? That meant even the most petite ladies to the largest tattoo-festooned gentlemen, would be shoehorned into the things as soon as arriving, often revealing acres of flesh that clearly hadn't seen any form of sunshine for a considerable time.

Even after wrestling into the outfit with its fiendish strings at the back - at the back! - the all-in one - inevitably floral design - hung loosely and with various holes exposing bits and pieces that you really didn't want exposed.

The only saving grace was that every other hapless soul was also kitted out shoulder to knee in these garments. And as we were carted off to undergo our various treatments, eyes would be averted in an attempt to preserve some dignity, lest a flimsy string should suddenly give way and our modesty would be on display to all and sundry.

The French like to imagine themselves as fashion gurus - are their public hospitals full of state-sponsored smocks or are they replete with fabulously-designed patient outfits? A Jean-Paul Gaultier, Louis Vuitton or Christian Dior here, an Yves Saint Laurent gown there?

Back in Blighty - our hospitals - not just content with fitting you out with 'gowns' - and invariably conscious of the dangers of DVT - also insist you wear knee length, luminous white stockings.

The effect on hospital visitors encountering these strangely-dressed creatures roaming the linoleum-coated corridors can be quite startling - especially if the patients are also sporting NHS-issued 'slippers' - footwear apparently designed to turn that linoleum into the local ice skating rink.

During my stay and after parading self-consciously around in this outfit for three days - I finally sent out a plea and kindly friends went to BHS - no Louis Vuitton for me - and purchased a pair of pyjamas - the like of which I hadn't worn since I was a boy - but which restored my dignity.

So farewell hospital gown and well done the NHS for at least addressing the issue that has haunted so many for so long - the new design actually doesn't look too bad with its poppers and ties. No-one's going to jump into the new designs with unbridled joy, but it's a great leap forward.

By Simon Warburton.


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