NHS Connecting for Health is in discussions with N3 BT about providing an 8Mb broadband service which could provide GP practices with faster broadband speeds.

The DH’s central IT agency is also advising N3 customers not to order any upgrade because of concerns over performance issues “at this time.”

EHI Primary Care understands that the broadband deal, which CfH says is not a GP-specific product, would be a Business DSL service which would offer an upload speed of up to 448kbps and download speeds of up to 8Mbs.

It is as yet unclear when or how GP practices would be able to take advantage of any agreement although it would appear to offer the prospect of a better service for some of the problems with broadband speeds faced by GP practices and highlighted by EHI Primary Care’s Fair Deal on NHS Broadband campaign.

A notice on BT’s N3 website claims slower than average performance is usually caused by an inappropriate configuration of local services and that the vast majority of GP sites are working well below the average bandwidth available.

The notice advises customers not to buy upgrades based on performance issues. It states: “NHS CfH advises that, at this time, customers should not order any upgrade based upon current views of performance issues as there is considerable activity underway, between CfH and N3SP, around configuration of some applications and also the recent launch of the new Internet service.”

As EHI Primary Care exclusively revealed last month, BT has been investigating ways in which it might improve its services for EMIS practices struggling with slow connection speeds to their branch surgeries and work on that is due to be completed this month.

Unlike the current uncontended service offered to GP practices under the existing deal, which BT and CfH have always highlighted as one of its strengths, the new Business DSL service would be a contended service as is commonly used by small businesses. However it has been suggested that GP practices might be much better served with a small contention ratio, such 1:10 or even 1:20, combined with faster broadband speeds.

A CfH spokesperson confirmed to EHI Primary Care that the agency was currently in discussions with BT about an additional DSL service although he said it was not a new GP specific product.

The CfH spokesperson said that the initial pilot sites have been drawn from organisations that have less demanding service requirements, perhaps based on staffing levels or building occupancy etc and include small mental health locations and child health clinics.

He added: “The N3 model involves continual technical development and the provision of cost effective solutions and therefore work is already underway to develop additional functionality to complement the initial Business DSL product. This will extend the target audience to other types of NHS organisations, including GPs.”

He added: “This has been an ongoing activity as part of the general development of new N3 products and services for the NHS. It is not specifically aimed at GP practices and we would not expect GPs to be the early implementers of the service, although this may change as the product develops. We expect to conclude those discussions shortly and it is intended to pilot a service in early 2007.”

A BT spokesperson told EHI Primary Care that BT was in discussion with CfH about a new 8Mb service.

Related stories

BT investigates slow connections for GPs

Fair Deal on NHS Broadband