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Time is running out for NHS trusts and networking suppliers alike to prepare for the final termination of the current NHS N3 data and voice networking contracts in March 2017, infrastructure supplier Updata has warned.
The long-standing N3 network is soon to be replaced with a new service called the Health and Social Care Network (HSCN). The replacement network is supposed to be more flexible and cost-effective, and improve choice for providers.
Like the Public Services Network (PSN) upon which it will be based, the HSCN – at one time known as the Public Services Network for Health (PSNH) – will also be open to competing suppliers, ending the reliance on the centrally managed private N3 network, which was procured exclusively from BT.
The government hopes that the HSCN will help meet its vision for a more patient-centric NHS, with packages designed to meet the varying needs of NHS providers and trusts, leading to improved patient care and outcomes.
In a newly published whitepaper, Updata, part of Capita, flagged several challenges that both networking suppliers and the NHS must meet.
In particular, Updata managing director Béatrice Butsana-Sita said, many NHS organisations were apparently unaware that they would soon have a choice of providers and had not begun their search. She urged healthcare providers to start looking at the new supplier marketplace as soon as possible.
“With the potential for a rush on suppliers as the March 2017 deadline approaches, healthcare providers should start looking at the marketplace now to avoid getting trapped in delays caused by supplier demand,” she said.
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Butsana-Sita highlighted other serious challenges that the industry needs to overcome to prepare for HSCN.
“These include ensuring all NHS organisations have access to a robust, reliable and secure network; communicating the changes that the HSCN will bring; and putting in place measures that will ensure service to patients is not impacted while this switch-over takes place,” she said.
The advent of the HSCN will necessitate new approaches to things such as data security – the security of N3 was enforced by the Information Governance Statement of Compliance (IGSoC), but this has been retired by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) and a new obligation is being drawn up, which may lead to a temporary vacuum, said Updata.
Additionally, while some NHS organisations will be able to piggyback on existing PSN networks, in some areas a complete overhaul of physical network infrastructure will be needed, necessitating new network digs to install fibre-based broadband, for example.
Zack Pandor, director of countywide IT services at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, recently contracted Updata as he prepares to transition the trust, which covers a population of over half a million, to HSCN.
“The HSCN will undoubtedly bring flexibility that currently does not exist under the N3 network, but what is most important for Gloucestershire is the ability to create truly integrated and connected services,” said Pandor.
“We will be able to have a network that connects all our sites and offers access across different organisations. It will bring social care together with healthcare, connect us to the local authority, and allow health practitioners to work off-site and throughout the NHS estate.”
“For all NHS organisations, creating efficiencies and providing the best possible value for money needs to be at the heart of the new network,” he said.