Design for Patient Safety

The Findings

The report, jointly commissioned by the Design Council and the Department of Health, says healthcare products and services have been designed without enough knowledge either about how they will be used or the system they will be part of. The result has been that too often the potential for errors has been overlooked or inadvertently designed in to healthcare systems.

The answer, says the report, is to move away from a culture of blame to an approach that recognises errors as the 'culmination of failures in the healthcare system' and uses design across that system to improve safety.

The report is a response to the Government’s drive to learn from medical accidents, which led to a strategy for reporting, analysing and drawing lessons from accidents. The National Patient Safety Agency was formed in 2001 to put the strategy into action.

The report's authors discovered that:

  • The NHS is ‘seriously out of step with modern thinking and practice’ on design, leading to avoidable risk and error.
  • Design practice and understanding is less advanced in the NHS than in other safety-critical industries.
  • Not only does the design of individual devices and products need to be improved, but also the way the NHS views the potential of design thinking and methods to help organisations as a whole.
  • Single design initiatives have to be seen in the light of the ‘big picture’ of the healthcare system and how it relates to patients.

The report makes numerous recommendations to allow for better design decision making through increased knowledge of NHS systems, lay down design standards for quipment and packaging, and evaluate and monitor designs based on how they contribute to patient safety. It also recommends setting up a strategic advisory panel to work with the National Patient Safety Agency in bringing in a design-led approach to safety across the system.

For further information

General enquiries:
Matthew Kennedy-Martin, Design Council

Tel: 020 7420 5214

Cambridge EDC | 2004