At the same time, the NHS is facing unprecedented budgetary constraints and, along with all public services, will be required to do more with less and make the absolute best use of its assets.
Key to delivering this future strategy will be the impeding overhaul of NHS network connectivity and the delivery of its replacement, the new Health and Social Care Network (HSCN).
In a new white paper, Next Generation Connectivity for the NHS – available in full here – we look at the impact this will have, and the challenges the NHS and suppliers will need to overcome to deliver it.
The contract to deliver the current N3 network will expire in March 2017, ending reliance on a single-supplier private network. The market will be open up to competing network providers, who will be able effectively to design bespoke network packages for Trusts, hospitals, GPs and other NHS organisations which best suit their local needs.
N3, which is one of the largest Virtual Private Networks (VPN) in Europe with more than 58,000 connections, 63 points of presence and deploying more than 12,000 km of fibre optic cable, provides the NHS Internet Gateway, serving 1.3 million employees.
There are clear benefits to opening up network connectivity to a range of suppliers. N3 lacks agility and flexibility, and network standards could make it difficult for organisations to deploy and manage their own applications, especially IP telephony.
Opening up the market to new suppliers will also encourage competition and innovation, while creating more flexible network arrangements. This will not only help the NHS secure real value for money and return on investment, it will also maintain assurance, security and confidence in the network that all NHS organisations use.
The HSCN will offer an interoperable network between health and social care organisations, and will encourage greater integration of health and social care services, flexible and remote working, and access to national, regional and locally-hosted applications.
In just a few short months, this ambitious transformation should become reality. With such a short time frame, there are significant hurdles to overcome.
Security of data will always be a paramount concern to NHS bodies, as will continuity of service. Combine this with the added pressure of creating the physical infrastructure needed to connect all NHS sites to a robust network, and the scale of the challenge becomes clear.
There is an urgent need to act to deliver transition to the new provisions quickly. And yet there remains a distinct lack of awareness within many NHS organisations of the impending contract end, or where they should go for impartial advice – we believe this is the most pressing challenge which needs to be addressed at the earliest opportunity. Many decision makers in the health service are unaware of the options that will become available to them through the HSCN and the benefits that it should be able to bring.
Our new report is a call to action. Network connectivity between organisations and patients supports the wider technology drivers of digitalisation – a paperless NHS – and mobilisation and integration, which are key to the Five Year Forward View.
The HSCN can provide secure mobility at Trust locations such as hospitals, surgeries and third party locations such as care homes, as well as off-premise, which will help secure the personalised, mobile, and integrated healthcare of the future.
However, it is clear that more needs to be done to communicate the benefits this transition could bring, and the timeframe within which it needs to be delivered. Read our full report here.