Cleaning bug

The Design Bugs Out scheme tackles priority areas in medical products and healthcare design. Lynda Relph-Knight takes the pulse of an initiative that may quite literally help preserve lives

Fear of infection is a major concern of many people finding themselves in hospital. The NHS’s response has been largely based on personal hygiene and design has, literally, had an important hand in this.

The Clean Your Hands campaign originally created by Lucid for the National Patient Safety Agency won the Grand Prix in the 2005 DBA Design Effectiveness Awards, which are measured on results rather than purely on aesthetics. A second campaign by 999 Design was launched in autumn 2007. But while clean hands might help to prevent the spread of infection in healthcare centres, the design of furniture, equipment and services could play a more fundamental part in stopping infections like MRSA and C Difficile at source.

This is the thinking behind the Design Bugs Out initiative, launched last year by the Department of Health with the NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency and the Design Council. The initiative has two main strands/ the design of products relating to the bedside environment and patient transport and a commode; and a £125 000 project with the Helen Hamlyn Centre at the Royal College of Art to look at ‘priority areas’ in hospital wards – a blood pressure cuff, a wipe dispenser, a pulse oximeter finger clip, a mattress, cubicle curtain handles and a cannula. •

For the first strand, five briefs were set and teams comprising product design groups and manufacturers recruited with the help of the Design Business Association. A competition chaired by Seymour Powell co-founder Richard Seymour resulted in Pearson Lloyd collaborating with Kirton Healthcare on both the commode and a chair for patients, Hollington and Herman Miller working on a bedside cabinet, Kinneir Dufort and Bristol Maid on bedside storage for patients and Minima Design and Kingsland creating a porter’s chair to move patients around the hospital. Each team was awarded £25 000 for research and development and to create the prototype.

A key aspect of the project is that the Design Council has not only managed to engage senior civil servants in the exercise, it has set up a system that allows the projects’ instigators to retain copyright in their work. The idea is that designs that help preserve lives should not be the property of one organisation – or country – but be universally available.

Following yesterday’s launch at the Design Council in London, the prototypes will be displayed in seven NHS ‘showcase’ hospitals and taken to healthcare conferences across the country over the next three months. Who will take them to the next stage remains to be seen.

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