Human error and systemic failure lead to unnecessary harm and suffering for health service patients, including permanent impairment and loss of life. Research indicates that in up to 10 per cent of all hospital admissions some kind of adverse incident occurs, more than half of which are believed to be avoidable. The effect on staff and the £2 billion plus consequential costs further increase the need to improve all aspects of patient safety. Design has an important and hitherto unrecognised role in meeting this challenge.
The Royal College of Art has a strong track record in design for patient safety, dating back to the research and development of the King’s Fund bed in the 1970s. Since 2000, the RCA has renewed its focus in this area, under the direction of Professor Roger Coleman. He is one of the authors of the 2003 Department of Health report Design for Patient Safety: a system-wide design-led approach to tackling patient safety in the NHS. The report was endorsed by the Chief Medical Officer and has been the springboard for subsequent projects in design to improve patient safety. The Helen Hamlyn Centre was honoured with the President’s Medal of the Ergonomics Society (2005) for this work.
Professor Roger Coleman has built up a multidisciplinary design-research group through successful collaborations with the NHS, industry and other research institutions. The team has developed its own evidence-based and user-centred methodology and applied this to the design of medication packaging, ambulance design standardisation, and the development of hospital equipment. In 2007 it was overall winner in the Anaesthesia and Critical Care section of the Medical Futures Innovation Awards for a new resuscitation trolley which is set for ward trials in the first half of 2008, prior to manufacture in the UK.