Research by the University of Huddersfield’s School of Art, Design and Architecture is helping to ensure that patient safety is a central feature of the rapidly expanding transfer of healthcare from hospitals to the home. Dr David Swann has demonstrated that traditional nursing bags can be carriers of disease and created a 21st-century successor that addresses this key issue.

What was the problem?

Health services look to cut costs by moving more treatments out of hospitals and into the community, but there are risks to consider. Research has highlighted a rise in community-associated MRSA strains and identified limitations of existing surveillance measures. The World Patient Safety Alliance puts the chance of a patient contracting MRSA at 1 in 10 in a hospital setting and 1 in 4 in a non-hospital setting, due to the contamination of medical devices and healthcare workers facilitating the spread of disease.

Benefits of this research

This pioneering work has generated international interest, influenced design practices and drawn much-needed attention to the dangers of exporting healthcare without hygiene in the fast-growing sector of non-hospital treatment.

What did we do?

Research carried out at the University of Huddersfield in conjunction with NHS at Home strives to understand the challenges of delivering clinical procedures in patients’ homes. In 2010 the team found that a third of the traditional Gladstone bags sampled carried the MRSA bug, with 55% of bags never being cleaned and only 6% being cleaned once a week. To aid the design of a new bag, researchers at the University of Huddersfield conducted workshops with nurses, healthcare professionals and service improvement managers, employing Lego Serious Play to help participants work through imaginary scenarios.

The new bag was designed from non-permeable polypropylene white plastic to optimise cleansing techniques with easy-to-clean drawers, an absence of germ-trapping fastenings and a hard surface that transforms into a hygienic treatment area. The bag incorporates a flat-assembly drawer which can be removed or replaced to allow for personalised procedure packs for each patient. Comprehensive tests using ultraviolet (UV) sensitive gel showed the new bag helped minimise contamination spread. In 2012 the bag was patented in Europe and the US.

The 21st Century nursing bag won the 2011 Helen Hamlyn Award for Creativity and was the only product to receive an NHS Innovation Challenge Prize award in 2011. It also featured as a finalist in the Design Research category of the 2010 Industrial Designers Society of America International Design Excellence Awards; the Medical Device category of the 2010 Medipex Yorkshire and Humber Innovation Showcase Awards; the Body category of the 2011 INDEX: Design to Improve Life Awards; the 2012 James Dyson Awards; the Infection Prevention and Control category of the 2012 Nursing Times Awards and the Product Design category of the 2012 Institution for Engineering and Technology Innovation Awards.

‘The design process and in particular the prototyping session with NHS staff was truly an inspirational example of how co-design and anthropological observation techniques can help tackle service as well as product challenges.’

Julia Schaeper - former Service Design Lead at the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement

What happened next?

The design of the new 21st Century nursing bag by Dr David Swann has led to further research using similar principles that focus on both function and infection. The ABC Syringe is impregnated with red ink that is sensitive to carbon dioxide, meaning the syringe turns red after its special seal is broken, alerting doctors and patients to the fact that it has been used and could therefore be contaminated. The design won the World Design Impact Prize 2014 and was showcased at the Design Museum in London as part of their Designs of the Year exhibition.