Colour-coded syringe trays may help cut medication errors, University of Derby study finds

Date posted: January 10, 2023

A simple change in the use of syringe trays could help reduce errors in complex clinical environments. This is the finding of research carried out by a team at the University of Derby.

The University was approached by UVAMED, a healthcare innovation company based in Leicestershire. The company had produced Rainbow Trays – colour-coded compartmentalised syringe trays – and wanted to have their effectiveness evaluated.

Drugs used for anaesthesia and sedation are prepared and administered in complex clinical environments and distracting conditions, which can lead to human error. Data suggests that drug-related errors – such as accidental syringe swaps – occur in 1 in 133 anaesthetic administrations.

The team – Dr Edward Stupple, Professor Frances Maratos, Andrew Baird and Dr Victoria Laxton – conducted independent objective trials on the trays, supported by funding from the government’s innovation and research agency, Innovate UK.

Based in realistic clinical skills suite environments at the University of Derby and a local NHS Trust hospital, the team used state-of-the-art eye-tracking technology, among other techniques, to test the trays’ effectiveness. The team worked with consultant anaesthetists to design the tasks, including medical condition scenarios.

The results, which have been published in the British Journal of Anaesthesia, revealed that using the Rainbow Trays improved efficiency measured by search time for trays with errors and search time for trays with no errors – the trays helped make it quicker for users to make the correct choice first time. The eye-tracking data also demonstrated more efficient searching of the colour-coded compartmentalised trays – it was much easier for the Operating Department Practitioners and anaesthetists to make a decision without having to study the trays in as much detail.

Professor Frances Maratos, Professor of Psychology and Affective Science at the University of Derby, explains: “Our results are promising with respect to improving patient safety. For example, the organisation of colour-coded trays may facilitate secondary checks from theatre staff such as Operating Department Practitioners, as an additional safety layer, with the aim of preventing drug errors in high-pressured environments such as operating theatres.”

Bev Fawdington, Director of UVAMED, said: “This study provides clear evidence that a standardised system such as Rainbow Trays can reduce cognitive load and the risk of medication error during administration. These results – delivered on a project conducted almost entirely during the Covid pandemic – illustrate the ingenuity, tenacity and dedication of the research team and NHS participants. They show that standardising the presentation of anaesthetic drugs can improve both clinicians’ wellbeing and patient outcomes.”


Keep Updated

Latest News & Events

Nigel Driffield photo

Economic Opportunities

Jan 26 2023

Professor Driffield: Foreign Direct Investment and the West Midlands

Nigel Driffield is a Professor of International Business and Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Regional Engagement) at the University of Warwick. Prof. Driffield's work enables a region to understand the motivations behind firms investing in the area, thus supporting the region to understand its competitive position when seeking to attract such investment.

Read more


Jan 24 2023

Midlands manufacturing strengths make region key to increasing UK’s productivity

A new study from the Centre for Social Justice – Making the change: A plan to reboot British manufacturing and restore growth – says a revival of the manufacturing industry in the UK is essential if the government is to achieve its flagship ambition of ‘levelling up’ the poorest parts of the country. As the UK’s manufacturing heartland, this could put the Midlands at the forefront of the nation’s economic recovery.   

Read more
The A500 Queensway dual carriageway passing through Stoke on Trent


Jan 24 2023

MPs gather in Westminster to rally behind A50/A500 road improvements

Roundtable to be held today (Tuesday 24th January) at 5.00pm in Parliament

Read more
An electric vehicle charging

Subscribe to Midlands Matters, the newsletter of the Midlands Engine