The different internet networks used by the NHS and social care are a barrier to providing integrated care, according to the Local Government Association.
Speaking at a recent event on developing local digital roadmaps, Mark Golledge, programme manager for health and care informatics at the LGA, said that “network infrastructure” is one of the main challenges faced by organisations looking to share information across care boundaries.
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.
There are plans to create a combined Health and Social Care Network, but according to the Health and Social Care Information Centre this won’t be in place until 2016-17. The NHS contract for N3, which is run by BT, is due to end some point in 2017.
Speaking at the local digital roadmaps event, Golledge said there are existing ways to get around the problem of connectivity, but these come at a price.
“A number of local authorities have flagged the issue around N3 of having to purchase, at cost, the N3 network separately to the PSN network that local authorities are already on.”
He added that some work was being down in Yorkshire and Humber to look at where there might be connectivity between N3 and PSN, although this is in its “really early stages."
Local councils are pushing connectivity as a priority, said Colledge. “A number of local pioneer sites are saying we need to address this because it is a real challenge: not just technically, but from a financial perspective as well.”
The combined HSCN is meant to solve these issues, but the problem has faced several delays. It was given an urgent red confidence assessment by the government’s Major Projects Authority in June this year, which means a project “appears to be unachievable."
The red label is mainly due to a review of the project’s strategic direction, which means the planned budget allocation is no longer relevant and a business case for the programme cannot be approved.
The proposed replacement for N3 was originally known as N4 but was changed to the HSCN to reflect the need to integrate with social care.
A blueprint on HSCN was meant to be published by the HSCIC in June this year, but the most recent information on the website says this is now due for some point in autumn.
The HSCIC website adds that “future funding arrangements for HSCN will also be determined later in the year."
In addition to the red rating, other setbacks for HSCN include the programme director leaving the programme on 30 June 2015, as mentioned in the papers for the HSCIC’s board meeting in September.