BT has won the N3 (New National Network) contract to provide and manage a broadband network to link all NHS organisations in England, health minister, John Hutton, announced today. 

As had been widely anticipated, BT was chosen ahead Cable and Wireless for the N3 contract, which will see it act as integrator, rather than as a broadband service provider iteself.   BT and Cable and Wireless currently jointly provide the NHS’s existing IT network NHSnet. 

The new broadband network will provide will provide the IT infrastructure for staff to access and use the new IT systems being delivered by the National Programme for IT (NPfIT). The seven year contract is worth an estimated £530 million.

The number of sites served will be increased from 10,000 – under the current NHSnet contract – to all 18,000 NHS locations and sites.

According to the NPfIT a typical GP practice will see bandwidth increase from 256Kbps to between 512Kbps and 1Mbps, while a typical acute hospital will see an increase from 2Mbps to 100Mbps.

N3 will also enable transmission of voice and video information as well as data including e-mails, medical information, test results and GP payment information. This should allow NHS organisations to use the same network for some of their telephone systems.

Hutton said: "The New National Network will play a crucial role in the day-to-day business of the NHS, which currently exchanges millions of items of electronic data every day. For NHS doctors, it will mean they can be confident that key patient data will be available securely and reliably at the touch of a button."

N3 will be vital to the success of key components of the NPfIT including national services such as the central NHS Care Records Service and electronic appointment booking. In addition to providing broadband connections the new N3 network will enable electronic transmission of visual data, such as video and x-rays.

According to the NPfIT the N3 contract will make the NHS the first major user of significant broadband capacity in the public sector.

Richard Granger, director general of NHS IT said: "The N3 network is a critical component of the infrastructure required to modernise healthcare delivery – providing high quality, high speed connections."

Explaining how BT will act as an integrator and under the contract Granger said: "The integrator will purchase connections from a constantly updated set of national and local telecoms companies who have competed to provide the service at best value."  Almost all broadband providers currently have to use the BT local loop to provide a service.


Granger predicted this approach could potentially save the NHS up to £900 million over seven years, compared with the cost of procuring the capacity through the existing NHSnet contracts.

Granger said: "Frontline NHS staff will begin to see improvements in connectivity later this year."

According to the NPfIT all confidential data transmitted over the network will be secured using industry standard security protocols. In addition, confidential medical information will be protected by further security measures built into the NHS Care Records Service.

The network has also been designed to reflect the critical nature of the services that run on it, with extremely high levels of resilience built in to minimise any potential impact on patients. The NPfIT says this should result in fewer occasions when systems are unavailable through downtime.

UK e-commerce minister Stephen Timms said: "I am pleased that BT has today been awarded this important contract as it marks a significant stride forward in our Broadband Britain programme."

BT will buy their broadband connectivity through Regional Aggregation Bodies that have been set up to aggregate public sector broadband demand. This approach is intended to pool public sector broadband buying power.


Timms said: "Areas previously considered too remote and uneconomic for broadband will particularly benefit."

Earlier this month a report by the House of Commons Trade and Industry Select Committee said the lack of competition in wholesale broadband Internet connections market jeopardised the Government’s  goal for Britain to be the most wired G7 nation by 2005.  The main target of the report was BT, which sets wholesale broadband rates. 

BT has now won contracts worth £2,146 million from the NPfIT since December 2003 – the London Local Service Provider (LSP) contract, NHS Care Records Service and N3. In addition, BT is a major technology supplier to several of the other LSPs including Fujitsu in the South and Accenture in the North East.