Health & Patient Safety Research Lab
The Royal College of Art has a strong track record in design for patient safety, dating back to the 1960s, when the Nuffield Foundation funded an initial scoping study into the function and design of non-surgical equipment in hospitals.
This was undertaken at the Royal College of Art, under the direction of Bruce Archer, and more important, it was the first real introduction of design process and methods to hospital equipment design.
With support from the King’s Fund, the study led to a major design-research programme and several innovations in non-surgical equipment, including the ward drugs trolley and a revolutionary new design of the hospital bed, which had not changed significantly since the time of Florence Nightingale. This new standard or ‘King’s Fund’ hospital bed is still used in 85 per cent of UK hospitals. Importantly the design-research process developed under Bruce Archer demonstrated the value of an evidence-based approach to design for healthcare equivalent to that adopted now universally for the development of treatments and medications.
In 2003 the Centre renewed its focus on design in healthcare with the Design for Patient Safety report, undertaken with the universities of Surrey and Cambridge. The research involved interviews and focus groups with numerous stakeholders, and revealed shortcomings in the understanding and use of design in healthcare.
The report led to a steadily growing number of design projects with industrial, voluntary and government partners.
Recent major research projects at the Centre have built on this foundation, taking the work further in scope and ambition. A fundamental redesign of the emergency ambulance and associated support system has involved a large collaboration of institutions and stakeholders. A three-year multidisciplinary project looking at how design can reduce medical error has recently been completed. Design outputs are currently undergoing clinical trials and one design is now available for purchase.