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Physiotherapist and union rep
Davina Lambie, age 44, is a physiotherapist and union rep for the CSP union. She was part of a team of three CSP reps who secured the right for staff at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals Foundation Trust in the East of England to be able to wear shorts to work in hot weather. 

Davina told the TUC: “I’ve been working as a physio for 12 years. 

“I love the job because I work with an amazing multi-disciplinary team of people who care, and with patients whose grit and grace amazes me every day 

“And the uniform is part of that job. It’s important that we look reasonably smart, so we are seen as professional and that helps patients trust us.” 

Not comfortable or practical 

“But wearing the full uniform wasn’t comfortable or practical in the summer in the hot weather. 


“Hospitals are well known for being poorly temperature regulated. And on the wards the machines and lack of ventilation or air conditioning meant that our productivity was seriously reduced. 

“Often, we would need to stop working just to try to cool down, wasting valuable NHS time. We would also have to resort to rolling up our trousers to our knees, just to get some fresh air. That definitely didn't look professional. 

“So, after years of being uncomfortable, we approached management to ask if we could wear shorts when the weather was warm. 

“We received some opposition from senior nursing and allied health profession staff. Their objections were centred on aesthetics, and the perception that the profession’s image was being threatened.” 

Old-fashioned image 

“They felt that it would look too casual, and they were fixated on an old-fashioned image of a tunic and trousers or a dress with tights. 

Davina and her fellow reps used a whole suite of tactics to try and change the uniform policy. 

Davina said: “We used many tactics to try and get the policy changed. We brought it up at the joint staff side consultative committee, in meetings with our managers, and we even invited ourselves to senior nursing meetings to present the case. 

“We set up a ‘hot and uncomfortable’ working group, and with our CSP health and safety reps we carried out numerous risk assessments and completed multiple incident reports. 

"But despite all this, progress was slow, and several hot summers came and went. 

“Finally, we joined our staff side chair – who acts as the representative for all health unions in the trust – and approached our chief executive officer. This prompted some executive-level discussions behind the scenes.” 

Working with other unions 

The CSP team found it key to work with other unions to keep the issue on the agenda. 

Davina explained: “We didn’t work alone as this wasn’t a physio-specific issue. We weren’t the only ones struggling with our full uniforms in the summer. 

“For example, our nursing colleagues were not allowed to remove their tights in hot weather without explicit permission. 

“So, the CSP worked with other trade unions’ representatives to keep the issue on the agenda. 

“One of the barriers to progress was being told by senior staff that they would not allow shorts for physios only, because this would not result in equality of rights. So, we insisted that they should be permitted for all, and stuck to our guns. 

“We also insisted that anyone wearing a dress should be able to remove their tights whenever they wanted.” 

Obstacles along the way 

Davina faced obstacles along the way to securing this win for NHS staff. She told the TUC: “CSP reps worked on this project on top of our clinical caseloads, which limited the sustained pressure we could exert on trust management. 

“However, we had good support from human resources. Securing occupational therapy support – and support from all the other healthcare unions – was also really important. 

“We also engaged our physiotherapy manager by discussing this at our monthly meetings. They in-turn could raise this with senior staff. This helped with the final push we needed to get the policy reviewed – just in time for the approaching summer. 

“In the end we had to make a few concessions. We agreed staff would need to buy their own shorts, avoiding any cost to the trust. We also agreed on precise wording – requiring shorts be ‘knee-length and tailored’ – to help ease senior staff’s aesthetic qualms."  

Happy feedback 

The win has made a real difference to staff from the moment the change in policy came through. Davina said: “We got lots of happy feedback, with a real buzz around the place. 

Ready for work in shorts. Tazivei, Davina's manager.

“We since reflected that this was due to this change resulting in a renewed sense of autonomy, which had been taken away from us during the pandemic. 

“It’s made it a lot easier for us to do what are already challenging jobs in the hot weather, because we can move more easily, we are less irritable, and regulating our temperature makes us more productive and generally happier at work.

“One of the best things is that other hospitals are now trying to follow suit.

"Just last week someone from Scotland emailed me to ask for a copy of our uniform policy so that they can fight for the same right. It’s great to see our work having an impact beyond our own employer.”

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