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NHS Digital has taken a major step towards the impending implementation of the new Health and Social Care Network (HSCN), set for March 2017, with the appointment of managed services provider Redcentric as its peering exchange provider for a three-year contract.
Developed out of the Public Services Network (PSN), HSCN is set to go live imminently following the final termination of the BT-held N3 data and voice networking contracts. It promises a wide choice of suppliers, more flexibility and cost-effectiveness for users across the NHS.
As the single-supplier network will be shifting to a disaggregated supplier model, the carrier neutral peering exchange will be vital to act as a so-called “super-switch”, connecting the multiple community network service providers (CN-SPs) selling HSCN services to NHS users and interconnecting their networks to form a single, logical network.
Dermot Ryan, HSCN programme director at NHS Digital, said the award of the contract came at the end of a very competitive procurement process to stand up a critical component of the HSCN infrastructure.
“The contract is a significant step forward in establishing an HSCN marketplace of assured network services. This marketplace will drive competition among suppliers, improve consumer choice, support innovation and deliver value for money,” he said.
“The peering exchange will allow HSCN customers, who are using different network suppliers, to reliably communicate by interconnecting multiple supplier networks. It is an important step in the migration from N3 to HSCN and will enable more opportunities for collaboration and support digital transformation which enhances health and social care,” said Ryan.
Mo Siddiqi, Redcentric COO, added: “We are already one of the largest suppliers of N3 connectivity systems and set to be among the first wave of new CN-SPs.
“We take our responsibility very seriously and are committed to delivering this critical infrastructure and service for NHS Digital as part of our ambition to be the most trusted provider of network, cloud and collaboration solutions to NHS Digital and the wider public sector.”
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Towards the end of 2016, the HSCN switchover process became a source of concern after Capita-backed network integrator Updata issued statistics claiming a significant number of NHS trusts and other suppliers were not yet fully aware of how the new system would work.
Speaking to Computer Weekly at the time, Michael Bowyer, director at public sector networking association Innopsis, which had substantial input into the creation of HSCN, refuted these concerns and said it was “one of the best programmes we have ever been involved with”.
“The beauty of HSCN is it doesn’t proscribe the solution, it just presents the standards, but gives you the chance to be innovative on connectivity,” he said. “We have created a competitive, disaggregated model and given smaller and larger network suppliers the ability to compete on a level playing field.”
Bowyer said he was very relaxed about the speed of the transition from N3 to HSCN, and reaffirmed that no NHS organisation would be forced to move across until it was good and ready.
“HSCN has now briefed more than 700 NHS buyers, and the biggest question they’ve had is ‘how quickly can we move?’. Frankly, what drives supplier performance is when they get paid, so it’s in their interest to light up customers as quickly as possible,” he added.