Every NHS body to get full-fibre broadband, says health secretary

Matt Hancock announces plans to give every NHS organisation and community care service access to full-fibre broadband services

Every NHS hospital, GP practice and community care service in the country will be given access to a full-fibre – also known as fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) – broadband service as part of the government’s 10-year NHS Long Term Plan, health secretary Matt Hancock has announced.

In a speech to the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) technology conference, Hancock said the service upgrade would support radical improvements in the range and quality of digital healthcare services already promised in the Long Term Plan.

As previously outlined, these include a so-called “digital first” approach to primary healthcare, giving patients the choice of online or video GP consultations, more virtual clinics for hospital outpatient departments and cloud-based record keeping – all in the name of improving efficiency and outcomes within the NHS, backed by more than £20bn “gifted” to the service for its 70th anniversary in 2018.

However, said Hancock, without improvements to the underlying network infrastructure, many, if not all, of his digital plans for the NHS will be left dead in the water.

“Every day, our NHS staff do amazing work – but too often they are let down by outdated and unreliable technology,” he said. “It is simply unbelievable that one-third of NHS organisations are using internet that can sometimes be little better than dial-up.

“To give people control over how they access NHS services, I want to unlock the full potential of technology. This is the future for our 21st century healthcare system and a central part of our NHS Long Term Plan.

“Faster broadband connections can help us deliver these dramatic improvements. We need clinicians and other healthcare professionals to feel confident they can access fast, reliable broadband, so they can provide patients with the best possible care.”

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Currently, 39% of NHS organisations are still accessing the internet through broadband services supplied using slower, legacy copper lines, and NHS Digital has been busily trying to improve this situation through the ongoing upgrade of NHS organisations to the Health and Social Care Network (HSCN).

Up to now, the target has been for 70% of NHS organisations to be able to access full-fibre broadband via leased lines by August 2020. The ambition now is to give every single body access to full-fibre either through leased lines or straight FTTP as soon as possible. NHS Digital says 38% of NHS organisations are currently using leased lines, and 23% FTTP.

Hancock’s newly-established NHSX organisation – which sits alongside NHS Digital, bringing together responsibility for policy, implementation and change in digital, data and technology across the health service in England – will set out how GPs will be supported to achieve universal full-fibre access in its soon-to-be-published GP IT operating model.

With a substantial part of the burden of delivering universal full-fibre across the NHS likely to fall on national network builder Openreach, the organisation's managing director of infrastructure, Kim Mears, commented: “Our network already connects thousands of NHS sites across the country, and we’re keen to work with the health secretary as we build future proof FTTP broadband infrastructure across the UK.

“We believe our network can do even more for patients and healthcare professionals, and we’re talking to all parts of government about how to encourage greater investment in full fibre broadband,” she said.

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