NHS Digital has awarded a £12 million contract for its new NHS network, HSCN.

Health IT supplier Redcentric announced it had been awarded a three-year contract to run the peer exchange for the upcoming Health and Social Care Network (HSCN).

The peer exchange will sit at the centre of the HSCN network, allowing NHS and social care organisations on different accredited network suppliers to communicate.

The original tender for the contract said it was worth £12 million. NHS Digital has the option of extending the contract for a further three years.

Dermot Ryan, who heads the HSCN project at NHS Digital, said the exchange was a critical part of the new network.

“It is an important step in the migration from N3 to HSCN and will enable more opportunities for collaboration and support digital transformation which enhances health and social care.”

Redcentric chief operating officer, Mo Siddiqi, said the company was “extremely proud” to have been selected.

“We take our responsibility very seriously and are totally committed to delivering this critical infrastructure and service for NHS Digital.”

The HSCN is designed to replace the existing N3, the private national broadband network that allows NHS organisations to communicate securely and access national applications such as the NHS Spine.

The contract for N3, which is supplied by BT, expires in March this year, and HSCN connections are scheduled to be available from April.

Unlike N3, HSCN will not be a single network but a “network of networks”. Health and social care organisations will be able shop around for HSCN-accredited network suppliers, known as connectivity suppliers.

NHS Digital is  also contracting out three national services: a peer exchange, network monitoring and network analytics. Redcentric is the first of these national suppliers to be chosen.

While HSCN should be more secure, faster, and cheaper than its predecessor, the complexity of a “network of networks” had repeatedly delayed the move off N3.

The original contract for N3 was due to end in April 2014 but went into a three-year termination period to provide time for new services to be provisioned. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt only approved funding for HSCN in November, 2015.

However, as recently as November last year, NHS Digital’s assurance and risk committee was still expressing concern about HSCN’s complexity and “difficulties presented by the procurement of multiple suppliers”.

“Assurances had been given that these risks would be managed through strengthening NHS Digital’s commercial support.”

While the N3 contract will expire in March, it is unlikely many HSCN connections will be in place by then, and NHS Digital has plans for a “transitional” network arrangement to bridge the gap.

NHS Digital has said organisations still using N3 connections after March will be able to retain their connections under the current terms.