Jill Lawless, Associated Press Writer

LONDON (AP) — Some good news for hospital patients: a gown that won't let you down.

Stylish hospital gowns that snap down the side were unveiled in Britain on Tuesday, intended to replace those shapeless cloth sacks with useless ties that flash open at the worst possible moments.

Designers were given 25,000 pounds ($37,500) each to develop prototypes for products that would increase patient dignity. The plan, backed by the government and the Design Council, aimed to use Britain's design talent to improve its oft-criticized health system.

The most eye-catching product was a jaunty striped hospital gown by U.S.-born fashion designer Ben de Lisi. Made from high-quality cotton in a classic pajama-stripe pattern, it includes a pouch for a mobile phone and comes accessorized with a snuggly fleece blanket.

"Fine feathers make fine birds," said de Lisi, who has made dresses for stars including Kate Winslet. "If you look good, you'll feel good.

"Patients in hospitals are at their very lowest ebb, and you want them confident and buoyant so they can ask doctors the questions they need to ask."

Other designs included "modular bed pods" that improve privacy by funneling sound from bedside chats down instead of out and a recovery chair modeled on first-class airplane seats and designed by the team behind Virgin Atlantic's sleek Upper Class cabins.

Health Minister Ann Keen, a former nurse, said the new gowns would improve the hospital experience for everyone and could even help President Barack Obama in his efforts to overhaul U.S. health care practices.

"We can export our ideas to President Obama, who has been very successful but needs that extra bit of support," she said.

The Labour government has promised to get the designs in hospitals across England next year — if it wins a national election this spring.