Healthcare providers of all shapes and sizes are undergoing one of the biggest network transformations they have seen for decades, which will see the way they share information change fundamentally.
The new Health and Social Care Network (HSCN) represents a step-change in the way NHS organisations buy and manage their connectivity, with the end of the N3 network.
N3, the single-supplier network which allows NHS providers to access national applications and information, was designed more than 10 years ago. It is a national private network, managed centrally and delivered by a single supplier on a long-term contract arrangement.
While N3 has admirably served the NHS for more than a decade, it is now not fit for purpose – it is inflexible, and lacks the agility needed to serve a modern healthcare service. One of the limitations of the N3 was the N3SP portal, where customers had to pay a premium for extra bandwidth. It was unpopular with end users, and an expense they would rather avoid, according to Updata.
Updata, part of Capita plc, has extensive experience in delivering Scotland’s successful PSN, the Scottish Wide Area Network (SWAN), and other large regional networks in England and Wales. It is one of the first six providers to secure Stage 1 compliance as a Consumer Network Service Provider (CN-SP) for the new network.
The company firmly believes the new network can ensure NHS organisations of all sizes has connectivity which is fit for purpose and fully meets their individual needs.
HSCN will be designed to give them network services that are fit for their specific purposes, while health and social care providers will be given a wide choice of products, services, service levels, contract terms and price, effectively creating bespoke packages.
Key to this transformation is improved patient care and outcomes. HSCN is designed to offer an interoperable network between health and social care organisations, both within the NHS and outside, which means greater sharing of information.
Better use of data and technology has the power not only to transform the way people manage their own care by giving them more power over their healthcare choices, but also to enable the NHS to support the development of new treatments, cut inefficiencies, and reduce the administrative burden.
Necessarily, the HSCN will be required to manage and share confidential and sensitive data whose accuracy could be a matter of life and death. The new infrastructure therefore needs to be secure and reliable, providing an equivalent level of service, and maintain trust, while understanding the need for delivering cost savings.
NHS organisations also need to think beyond the core connectivity provision from CN-SPs to explore other value-added services that can be provided, helping them to function better and be more efficient. Key to this will be to consider building in safeguards, to protect themselves in response to cyberattacks. Recent news in this area has highlighted potential vulnerabilities which must be addressed when considering new network connectivity.
Suppliers are also focusing on offering a wide range of value-added services, including cloud-based and enhanced internet services, which will help all NHS organisations meet the needs of their individual digital transformation strategies.
The physical challenge of installing new network may also present some hurdles. In many areas, the opportunity to piggyback on existing PSN networks could offer a sensible and cost-effective way of putting the infrastructure in place. But there will be some parts of the country where the new network will require an overhaul of infrastructure which has been in place for several decades, and where fibre will need to be installed in places it hasn’t previously existed. It poses a significant civil engineering challenge.
By its nature, the HSCN will see the price of connectivity decreasing as it will open up a competitive market place, but as ever, costs will be at the forefront of the minds of procurement leads.
The route to procurement must be simple and effective for all healthcare providers, and whichever they supplier they ultimately select they must be reassured that it will offer them the security and reliability they need.
Updata’s message to healthcare organisations is that they must engage now with the supplier marketplace to secure the network which meets their needs, both now and into the future.
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