Network boss says N3 is ‘amazing’

  • 15 May 2007

The two men in charge of running the NHS national network share a feeling of frustration with GPs. However while the frustration for GPs has been the performance of their IT systems, for those running N3 it is the fact that the network is viewed as the source of that poor performance.

Stuart Hill, chief executive officer of N3 and Len Chard, Connecting for Health’s programme director for N3, are adamant that N3 is not to blame.

“From our perspective we are really confident that N3 is working well,” says Hill in an interview with EHI Primary Care alongside Chard.

Hill says the network is running at a fraction of its total capacity at the moment, that it is delivering 99.9 per cent access and while designed for national applications it is also fully capable of running local applications.

“As a network it’s truly amazing,” he adds.

Late last year EHI Primary Care ran a campaign, Fair Deal on NHS Broadband, which highlighted difficulties practices were having with the performance of their systems over N3. Practices complaints included slowness experienced while using Choose and Book or browsing for resource son the internet, difficulties opening scanned documents particularly at branch surgeries and reductions in the speed of clinical systems when information has to be checked via N3.

Hill and Chard say they took the complaints very seriously, were determined not to be defensive and visited every practice in the country whose problems were highlighted by the campaign.

Hill adds: “In every single case the problem related to a local configuration.”

The pair acknowledges that, even if the root cause of individual difficulties is not N3, GPs have genuine concerns.

Hill adds: “I accept that if you are a GP and something isn’t working you don’t care if it’s the application, the server or whatever you just want to have good service for your surgery and your patients.”

To that end BT and CfH say they would like to see a “more ubiquitous response” from primary care trusts (PCTs) providing advice and help to practices.

Chard says: “We’d like to think we can do more to work collaboratively, particularly with the PCTs. There is an opportunity for PCTs to work with us on some of the issues we encounter and apply that back to our customers for us. It’s not possible for us to visit 12,000 customers individually.”

Hill says he would encourage GPs who have problems to get in touch via the N3 helpdesk or to log their complaint via the N3 CRM.

He adds: “We feel very passionately about getting this right and are taking a leadership role in making sure we are at the centre of the debate.”

Chard and Hill revealed that BT and CfH have a range of plans to improve communication with clinicians over the next few months. These include getting much more involved in CfH clinical forums, launching N3TV and setting up a clinical reference group for N3.

Chard adds: “The group is currently being formed and will be a way in which formal input of what’s thought to be a generic issue can come to us.”

Action that BT and CfH have taken to improve services over the last few months including prioritising data that is being sent and received over the network with a new Quality of Service tool, upgrading the NHS gateway to deliver 1GB of capacity and working with GP system supplier EMIS to resolve performance issues experienced by EMIS LV users with branch surgeries.

Chard claims the problem involving traffic flows for EMIS practices “went away overnight” when a solution was applied. Similarly Chard says the upgrade to 1GB for the NHS gateway has turned what was a “performance bottleneck” into a first class service.

He adds: “Every five minutes we measure the time it takes to respond to a basket of resources like the BBC website that should be generally available and the policy is to meet a four second response time. I am very confident that our internet service is second to none.”

Another key issue for practices continue to be problems with the speed of response time when using Choose and Book. Again Chard says there is no “generic network issue” with Choose and Book.

While that may be small comfort to those who complain of consistent problems with the e-booking system the news that most GP practice N3 connections are about to start coming up for renewal, and could be upgraded to an 8MB DSL service, could bring more practical relief. In the meantime Hill invites disgruntled GPs and primary care IT managers to get in touch.

He says: “Talk to us, work with us and the PCT to find out what the issue is. We have shown that we can work with GPs to a good conclusion.”

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