NHS Digital’s new NHS Network, Health and Social Care Network is in full force with the transition from the old N3 network now underway.

The contract for the legacy NHS National Network (N3) infrastructure, supplied by BT , expired in March this year, with health and care organisations set to start to deploy connections to the replacement HSCN from October.

The migration of organisations and services from the interim transition network arrangements to HSCN is planned to be completed by August 2020.

Unlike N3 which was rolled out in 2004, 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.

Dermot Ryan, programme director for HSCN, confirmed to Digital Health News that the marketplace is now open with organisations able to buy HSCN connectivity.

“Some already have  collaborative procurements in progress including Yorkshire and Humberside Partnership, Eastnet and Lincolnshire, from a choice of suppliers”, Ryan said.

“There are 10 suppliers who are currently compliant and a further 11 in the process of being accredited.”

A list of these suppliers is published and updated on NHS Digital HSCN website.

The new data network enables NHS and non-NHS organisations to access and share information while also allowing health and social care organisations to buy connectivity from a choice of suppliers within what is claimed to be a highly competitive marketplace.

While HSCN should be more secure, faster, and cheaper than its predecessor, the complexity of a “network of networks” has 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.

However, Ryan said they are now in the final stages of building the HSCN infrastructure and customers on N3 will reside on the HSCN transition network until they fully migrate to HSCN (in October).

“The transition phase is going remarkably smoothly”, Ryan said. “Obviously it is a significant thing coming to an end after many years… everyone landed safely on the transition contract.”

There are 1200 customers on the N3 network – on top of that there are different contracting authorities who have 14,000 different connections and they connect to 51,000 different organisations.

Despite its huge undertaking, Ryan said its benefits are that it is a lot cheaper (than the N3), has better levels of security provision, “which is obviously something particularly important in the wake of the WannaCry attack”, and has higher levels of reliability.

Patrick Clark, head of communications, strategic engagement and marketplace development said the fundamental difference is moving away from a single supply national contract arrangement, to a now more standard-based network.

“In particular, HSCN supports health and social care collaboration which is a huge driving force in response to some of challenges the system is facing”, Clark said.

NHS Digital engaged suppliers closely over 18 months “and they been involved in the shaping of standards.”

He said the standards ensure services are consistent, highly reliable and interoperable.

Pilot sites currently testing connectivity include Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust.

To find out more about the standards and how HSCN works click here.

Benefits of the HSCN – Source: NHS Digital

  • Improved Integration and Sharing – Health and social care organisations need to share information and services electronically in order to provide coherent, joined up services to the public
  • Reduced Costs – Because HSCN is provided by multiple, competing suppliers, to a defined set of standards that are largely aligned to existing Industry practice, network connectivity will cost broadly the same as standard broadband connectivity and less than it did under the N3 arrangements
  • Enhanced Security – HSCN has enhanced, centrally managed security capabilities to protect against escalating cyber threats and ensure high levels of network reliability and availability
  • Reliability and simplicity – HSCN provides highly reliable, highly available private network connectivity as well as security enhanced Internet connectivity, over the same infrastructure – new arrangements for authorising organisations to connect to HSCN also simpler than they were under N3
  • Technology and Innovation –  HSCN standards are designed to enable a broad range of suppliers to offer network services that use the latest technology and innovation