Essex Strategic Health Authority has awarded a contract to BT to link up all of its healthcare organisations’ phone communications with VoIP over N3, the new NHS broadband network being installed across England as part of the National Programme for IT.

BT, which is also rolling out the N3 network nationally, will put IP telephony in place using Cisco Systems Internet Protocol systems in the 580 organisations under Essex SHA’s wing, including the hospital trusts and GP practices. The network is planned to cover video as well as voice calls and data, and it is even hoped that CCTV will be carried over it.

The network will be funded with a combination of local and national funding as part of a new system, the community of interest networks (COINs). While the N3 project is funded centrally, Essex is supplying additional funding for the extra application of using it for VoIP.

Gordon Hextall, chief operating officer of Connecting for Health, said: "This network underpins the strategic technology goals of the National Programme whilst assuring the most cost-effective use of NHS funds, both NHS CfH and local trust funds, to deliver the best possible infrastructure to support patient care."

He added: "Working with local communities to develop COINs is a major initiative within N3 that ensures the needs of the National Programme and local requirements are met in a single, cohesive network design."

The system will consist of Cisco 7200 and 10000 series routers, Cisco 2800 and 3800 integrated services routers and a software firewall will be in place using Cisco IOS software.

Janette Leonard, national programme director for Essex Infrastructure Trust, said: "By taking N3 one step further and designing it for voice and data services we can realise even greater cost savings for Essex SHA. At the same time we can support more flexibility in how NHS organisations can provide healthcare services for patients in Essex."

Neil Hemming, chief executive of N3 at BT, said: "Today’s announcement demonstrates the potential that the N3 broadband network has to support the NHS in improving healthcare and through converged voice and data, saving networking costs at the same time."