My colleague Mike Birtwistle wrote recently about the unlikely parallels between efforts in the UK and the deep south of the USA to improve quality of health. We often make comparison between ourselves, the US and Europe – I’ve lost count of the number of ‘UK is the sick man of Europe’ stories I’ve written and read over the years. But we don’t often reflect on the fact that other countries are looking to the UK as innovators, especially in healthcare.
In Copenhagen recently, my husband and I visited the Danish Design Centre to indulge a love of 60s teak furniture. I found myself in an exhibition demonstrating how industrial design can solve complex societal challenges and relieve pressure on a stretched health and welfare state. The examples held up as setting the pace of change were largely drawn from the NHS.
And, as ever, it was the simplest of design tweaks that had the biggest impact. Fashion designer Ben de Lisi – best known for his designer frocks for celebrities – redesigned the traditional back-opening hospital gown. The new robe opened in different places as needed, protecting patients’ dignity when moving around or when nurses change their dressings or drips. A design company had remodelled the individual lockers that sit by many patients’ beds – a repository for flowers, cards and personal belongings – so that their drawers pulled all the way out. It meant they could be more thoroughly and easily cleaned, preventing the spread of infections like MRSA. A seemingly small change, leading to a big difference.
And once I’d got over an initial feeling of still being at work whilst on my holiday, it really made me think about how much effort goes into designing the everyday things that we take for granted. And it made me pretty proud that British designers, and the NHS itself, are being showcased for insight, innovation and success.