The NHS in Leeds is working with the city council on a pilot project to integrate the two different networks used by health and social care services.
Speaking to Digital Health News, Alastair Cartwright, director of informatics for the three clinical commissioning groups in the city, said the aim is to demonstrate that connecting the networks is part of the “direction of travel” towards providing an integrated care system.
NHS services in England and Scotland use the secure N3 network to share information online, whereas social care services tend to use the Public Services Network.
However, there is a lack of connectivity between the two networks, which at the moment is a significant barrier to the government’s plans for patient records across health and social care to be digital real-time and interoperable by 2020.
Cartwright said that the local authority and NHS services in Leeds had been working on a pilot over the past three months to build the argument to NHS England and the government that there is a need for connectivity.
He said his team is now at the point of drawing conclusions together, and that in his view “undoubtedly, something needs to be done”.
“We are at point of writing that up to show, hopefully, that there is a case to be had for networks linking together.”
Cartwright explained that Leeds had been working on how to improve integration of health and social care for some time before the pilot.
Three years ago he said the city moved to a model involving 13 integration neighbourhood teams comprising professionals from multiple care backgrounds who needed access to both NHS and social are networks.
To get around this, the city used shared buildings that had to be cabled twice so people could log-on to both networks.
Cartwright said the next step was to use a single wi-fi service that could take users to either council service or health services on any device, although there was still no direct link between N3 and PSN. This is something the pilot is looking to overcome.
In addition to the technical problems, Cartwright said the team is also considering issues with information governance, and the different security requirements of each network, such as the Information Governance Toolkit for the NHS.
The work on connectivity at Leeds builds on the Leeds Care Record, which currently allows healthcare professionals at 106 GP practices, Leeds hospitals, mental health trusts and its community team to access patient details pulled from a variety of systems.
Cartwright said one of the main aims of the city’s health and social services from an IT angle is to have consistent technology, such as desktop computers and wi-fi, across the entire estate. “You could go into any building and access the services you need.”
He said the best case would be a single network across both sectors, whereas the “slightly less best case” is the ability to go into a council building or an NHS building and be able to connect to the other network on any device.
There has been some work from the centre on implementing a combined Health and Social Care Network once the current NHS contract with BT for N3 expires in 2017.
A blueprint on HSCN was meant to be published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre in June this year, but the most recent information on the website says this is now due for some point in autumn.