28 Jun 2017

A roadmap to HSCN procurement

Jeremy Wastie, business development director at Updata, discusses the changes that procurement leads should be aware of with the new Health and Social Care Network (HSCN) and the importance of service consumers engaging early with the supplier marketplace.

A roadmap to HSCN procurement
The Health and Social Care Network (HSCN) has the power to transform connectivity throughout the NHS, and we are now seeing a huge groundswell in activity towards implementing this much-needed, flexible network provision across the country.

There is a need for joined up services across NHS and local government – it is the right thing to do to help improve services while reducing spend for care providers.

Updata, part of Capita plc, is at the vanguard of the HSCN, having been named one of the first accredited suppliers by NHS Digital.  We firmly believe the new network arrangements can ensure NHS organisations of all sizes have connectivity which is fit for purpose, secure and fully meets their individual needs.

Key to its success will be ensuring each organisation carefully thinks through its own requirements before settling on a supplier. One size does not fit all, and NHS customers should be able to select services that fit their specific requirements, whether they are from an acute hospital or a GP surgery.

The choice which will be made available to organisations through the new marketplace is unprecedented after the monolithic nature of N3, and it is vital that procurement departments are given as much information as possible before they make their decision. Buying connectivity is not as simple as picking something out of a catalogue, based on the cheapest price.

In simple terms, we see it as very much like buying a car. You don’t just go for the cheapest one in the range – there are all sorts of factors to consider, such as: What extras do you want? Which is the safest? Which has the biggest boot? How do you want to pay for it? And so on. Given the highly flexible nature of the HSCN, to make the most of it care providers must think carefully about their own individual needs.

Suppliers will be able to help care providers find the package that best suits, however that is a conversation which needs to happen as early as possible. Engaging with suppliers in advance of formal procurements will reduce the risk of disappointment and increases the chance of mutually successful contracts for both sides.

The HSCN should not be a simple commodity market. Healthcare providers will not simply be buying a network from a price book – it goes above and beyond cost, as procurement departments must think about the type of service they will require. We would also encourage engagement with the Local Authorities and other NHS organisations in your area to prevent duplication and to generate economies and efficiencies.

The choices now available to NHS and social care providers represents a brave new world, and unless they engage with suppliers they won’t have a full picture of the nuances. We are not new to this market and understand the intricacies involved - over the past five years we have been building Scotland’s successful PSN, the Scottish Wide Area Network (SWAN), which now connects over 5,000 NHS, Local Government and other public sector sites across the country.

The path to the full HSCN service availability is now becoming clearer to Stage 1 compliant suppliers. Recent direction from NHS Digital on the new peering points into core services will enable suppliers to provide end to end pricing.  Similarly, further clarity has also been provided to NHS organisations on the on-going funding arrangements for connectivity services which will have a direct bearing on budgets.

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 should be simple and effective for all healthcare providers, but there are many factors to consider and there will be new alternative options for the NHS and Local Government to consider. Consumers of NHS services should engage early with the supplier marketplace to ensure their specific requirements are well understood and give themselves the best chance of a successful partnership.

This article first appeared in Public Sector Executive Jun/Jul 2017

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