BT has announced that it has successfully reached the 18,000 N3 broadband connections across the NHS, hitting its milestone two months ahead of schedule.

The 18,000 plus N3 connections means that N3 now covers nearly 97% of UK GPs and one million NHS staff.

Connecting for Health had initially set BT an April deadline to connect 18,000 sites to the new broadband network but a BT spokesperson told E-Health Insider that the telcom had passed the 18,000 target towards the end of last month and are working hard to continue deploying the national programme [for IT] broadband network across England.

Patrick O’Connell, managing director BT Health, said: “This is a tremendous achievement for BT and the national programme and of significant benefit to healthcare workers and their patients. The NHS now has a world-class high-speed secure network with the capacity to cope with the increasing sophistication of NHS services and procedures and their future needs.

“To achieve more than 18,000 connections in less than three years is a terrific effort and testimony to the hard work of BT, NHS Connecting for Health and the IT people on the ground. The success of N3 already underpins many of the new transformational services that are being delivered by the National Programme for IT. The foundations for the project are now in place.”

Further development of N3 is now planned. A BT Health spokesperson told EHI: “There is still more work to be done on N3. A lot of customers have opted for remote access, for example, which needs to be deployed to a large number of NHS staff. Having reached 18,000 connections performed ahead of schedule simply reflects how many people are now using the network.”

N3 was described as “one of the largest virtual private networks in Europe” which has “deployed 12,000 miles of fibre optic cables” by CfH’s chief executive, Richard Granger.

He said: “N3 underpins the whole programme and is benefiting patients enabling the fast, secure and reliable transfer of data across the NHS and will consign some of the old slower processes to history. More than a million NHS staff have access to N3 services. This has been delivered at 40% of the cost of the old network which only served around half the NHS.”

Granger said that an example of the benefits of N3 was the Yorkshire Air Ambulance Service whose new emergency call handling system uses N3 to connect all three of the region’s ambulance trusts, helping save time when responding to distress calls.

“Today, thanks to N3, the helicopter can now be airborne in less than three minutes where it used to take on average eight minutes to respond to distress calls. Valuable time which can make all the difference.”

The 18,000 connections are shared between GP surgeries, hospitals, community pharmacies and other NHS sites enabling the fast, secure and reliable transfer of clinical data. The improved network means that NHS staff can share and view information such as large data files, and patient records at the touch of a button rather than have to wait for the post to deliver such materials.

A BT spokesperson added: “We were awarded the N3 contract in 2004 for seven years, so our work on this innovative broadband network is far from over and completed. There are still lots of advances we are working on for this service, pipeline including the introduction of voice products which are forecast to further reduce the cost of telephony services for trusts and bring enhanced communication between NHS sites. Connections will continue to increase as further sites are added and remote connections provided.”

BT also announced that it has separately won five additional contracts with NHS organisations to develop five Community of Interest Networks (COINS) worth a combined total of £36m.

Speaking to The Independent newspaper O’Connell said that hitting the N3 target set the tone for a wider turnaround in BT’s fortunes on the NHS IT programme. As well as N3 BT is responsible for delivering new clinical systems across London and the national ‘spine’ records database. O’Connel said the programme had “turned the corner and has started to realise some of the goals it set out to achieve. N3 is the foundation for putting English medicine online.”

He added that BT expects to begin the full roll-out of the ‘spine’ in early 2008. In London, where BT is local service provider, the company has enjoyed some success in providing new picture archiving and communications systems and some specialist clinical and community software, but has so far failed to update the core IT systems used by hospitals.

Only one London hospital trust, Queen Mary’s Sidcup, has so far received a new patient administration system, from BT in its three years as local service provider in the capital.



BT Health