How design is being used to transform services

By Sarah Weir | 13 September 2018

There are many challenges we need to understand and address if we are to become a healthy nation. How might we improve our physical and mental health, avoid preventable disease and be more socially engaged to deliver better health outcomes? At a time when public health budgets are tight and resources stretched, design is increasingly recognised as a vital tool to help transform services and bring about positive change.

Across the country, the public sector is facing similar challenges; reducing inactivity and obesity, sexually transmitted infections and smoking in pregnancy and after childbirth. Changing structural pressures, emerging technology, commercialisation and devolution have driven a growing appetite for change and innovation in the way these issues are tackled. Having catalysed the agenda of including design in public sector reform, Design Council has worked widely to demonstrate the value of design, and build the skills and capabilities of policy makers, service commissioners, and delivery teams to use design thinking to help transform services in their communities. 

Design Council’s Design in the Public Sector programme, run in partnership with the Local Government Association, brings councils, partners and communities together to use Design Council’s globally recognised design process to explore and address key public health challenges. Through a series of dynamic workshops and expert coaching, they are supported to work in new, creative and collaborative ways. 

To date Design Council’s tools and methods have been successfully adopted by more than 60 local authorities who have built their skills and capabilities, while generating insights and evidence to shape new opportunities and deliver improved health outcomes. Over the past year the public health challenges addressed through the programme have included:

Improving patient’s health before surgery in Calderdale

Calderdale MBC recognised the growing evidence around improved health outcomes for patients who undertake lifestyle changes prior to surgery. It was evident from their research that issues related to smoking, physical activity and nutrition were not being addressed, and changes in lifestyle were not apparent before surgery.  Their clinical commissioning group board recognised this as a priority issue and following the local authority's plans to recommission lifestyle support services, the council is exploring how design methods could help them overcome this challenge across their health and social care system. 

Reducing unnecessary A&E visits by the over 75s in Epping Forest

Initial research by Epping Forest DC identified that a high number of unwell individuals over the age of 75 were presenting to A&E, when they could be more effectively treated elsewhere within the system. With an extremely busy A&E department at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, coupled with limited resources to treat these patients, the council were keen to understand the potential causes for their visits and explore the role that technology could play in addressing them. Bringing together a project team from the council, CCG, the Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust, Essex Partnership Trust and One Epping Forest, they are exploring digital approaches to service delivery.

Addressing high rates of teenage pregnancy amongst vulnerable groups in West Sussex

West Sussex County Council knew their teenage pregnancy rates were not far below the national average but had identified pockets of very high levels of pregnancies within some groups – particularly in their care leaver population. These pregnancies were placing additional stress on other services within the council and in worst cases resulted in babies being removed from the parents' care. In addition, the council knew their existing offers around increasing the use of contraception and preventing unwanted teenage pregnancies were not joined–up. Responding to these challenges, the council is improving the design, impact and effectiveness of their sexual health contraception information and services for young people, focussing on increasing positive behaviours within their most vulnerable teenage population.

Building social connection and community-led services to reduce social isolation in Stockport    

An exponential rise in the numbers of frail older people and those living with long-term health conditions, alongside significant reductions in resources, made the health and social care system in Stockport unsustainable in its current form. The council knew that to tackle these complex issues they needed new ways of working and collaborating with communities and voluntary sector partners to successfully deliver health and social services. The team is testing out a community-led place-based model to tackling social isolation in the area. 

The last date for local authorities to submit their application to this year’s Design in the Public Sector programme is 21 September 2018. You can find out more information and how to apply through the Design Council.

Sarah Weir is chief executive of Design Council

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