The NHS plans to establish a talent pool of designers

The NHS is planning to collaborate with a range of entrepreneurial designers on a more permanent basis, as it seeks to integrate design into the organisation.

The NHS has worked with designers in the past, but this will be its first concerted effort to establish a long-term engagement with the design industry.

The aim is to create a hotbed of talent, which the organisation can tap into at any time as projects unfold.

The work could involve anything from designing solutions to help improve waiting times, to rethinking interior space or creating tools to evolve business practices in the NHS.

Lynne Maher, head of service transformation at the newly formed £80m NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement, is a key driving force behind this strategy.

It is still early days, but Maher has various ideas in the pipeline. One possibility could involve establishing a partnership with Nesta to create a ‘dedicated route’ through which to hire designers. The NHS may also hold a design-led conference, where healthcare staff and designers can meet to pick each other’s brains.

Maher also wants to get designers into the NHS on a semi-permanent, rotating basis to work on particular challenges.

‘It is very important to work with young designers across the board – we are trying to talk to as many people as possible,’ she says.

A major challenge will be to raise awareness across the NHS about the benefits of design. Ultimately, the responsibility for hiring designers falls to the GP practices and hospitals, and the key decision-makers need to be in favour of the idea.

Maher is leading by example. She is currently looking for a designer to create working tools for the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement.

The NHS has already piloted working with designers on its recent Designs on Health project. Think Public, Teko, Design Matter and Design Heroine were each given a particular problem to solve.

Designs like a child’s mobile phone that becomes topped up with funds when they run, designed to help combat obesity, may not fully take off, but the NHS is likely to adopt other solutions over the forthcoming months.

For example, Think Public has developed an on-line Web-based patient-mapping service, which is being trialled by the Royal College of Nurses.

The system allows patients to outline the emotional aspects of their ‘journey’ through the health care system, and pinpoints areas of good practice and those in need of improvement.

Design Heroine created Memory Bud, an interactive software tool built into a mobile device or laptop, which responds visually to input, appearing ‘healthy’ if used and ‘drooping’ if neglected.

By looking after the bud, the idea is that you will care for yourself as well. A prototype is being developed and it will be showcased at Innovation RCA and Tokyo Design Block.

‘We would love this to be something you can get with a prescription,’ says Harriet Harriss, director at Design Heroine.

There are immense opportunities for designers to change the way the NHS functions. However, a cumbersome and vast public health model will demand patience and time.

NHS report Designs on Health, 2005, supported by Nesta’s Creative Pioneer Programme

Think Public – designs Web-based patient-mapping system Journeys

Teko – brands ‘hidden’ healthcare service NHS&Co

Design Matter – develops Run Miles, a mobile phone that gets topped with funds up when you run

Design Heroine – creates the software tool Memory Bud to connect the worker, the NHS and the employer

NHS Institute for innovation and improvement

Replaces: NHS Modernisation Agency, NHS University, NHS Leadership Centre

Located: University of Warwick

Aim: To encourage modernisation, innovation and learning in the NHS

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