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HSCN will go ‘wider and deeper’ than N3



Interview: Michael Bowyer of Innopsis says the Health and Social Care Network will give organisations more choice in their connectivity services

Migration begins in April of next year. The contract expires for N3, the broadband network for the NHS, making way for the Health and Social Care Network (HSCN), and organisations that use the service should be thinking seriously about how they manage the change.

But according to Michael Bowyer it is more about taking opportunities than preventing disruption. As innovation and knowledge sharing director of Innopsis, the association initially set up for suppliers to the Public Services Network (PSN), he makes the case for HSCN opening up a new market of connectivity solutions for care organisations.

It is no surprise that he takes on the role of cheerleader, given that Innopsis has supported NHS Digital (until recently the Health and Social Care Information Centre) in the design and delivery of the new network. The organisation was in at an early stage, providing industry input into the plans, and is now doing its bit to spread awareness of what is on offer.

Obviously it is supporting its members, but Bowyer says the benefits will also build up on the customer side of the fence.

Wider range

“The difference (with N3) will be that the range of connectivity solutions – fixed, mobile, satellite, wireless – means that the reach of the network will be far greater than before,” he says. “When you talk about that and the cost competitiveness it really will enable that mobile agenda.

“We’re talking doctors’ surgeries, mobile workers, pharmacists, and then you’re moving out to social care. In theory anyone who needs those connections should be able to cost-effectively use an HSCN service.”

He says the new network will be radically different to its predecessor, not just in connecting the NHS with social care oganisations, but as a disaggregated service and supplier model. In other words, users do not sign up to prescriptive range of services, but can choose more widely.

“HSCN is an obligations framework, a set of connectivity standards and service management and security requirements. It provides recipient organisations with a lot of flexibility in how they can buy the services.”

Procurement freedom

This is largely down to the procurement arrangements. Organisations will be able to go through the Crown Commercial Service’s RM1045 framework, which he says has about 20 suppliers with solutions for HSCN, but there is no requirement to do so. Other routes, including the use of the OJEU process, can be used and could provide alternative options.

In turn, this can provide different types of connectivity.

“For example, if you operate in Devon and Cornwall across the moors, where connectivity is difficult and challenging, in theory the customer will now have access to a whole raft of connectivity solutions to suit their business requirements.”

He also points to another fundamental difference: “N3 was a fully paid up service, paid centrally by the NHS, and the consuming authorities added their own connectivity.

“With this model the funding of the network is given by the centre to the recipient organisations, so they control the spending and which services they consume. Rather than getting a Hobson’s choice they can buy the connectivity they need, and use the aggregated capability from this market to flush out further cost savings through looking at their own WAN requirement, internet connectivity, etc.

“It’s not just a network. HSCN is driving through a radical change in terms of the technology and funding agendas.”

Infrastructure model

Bowyer gives NHS Digital credit for this, saying its approach has laid the ground for innovation, and says it can provide a model for major infrastructure programmes in the future. And the network will support the NHS agenda, first outlined by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in 2013, to go paperless by the end of the decade.

He also predicts that the expiration of N3 will lead to an aggregation of demand for services that will kick start the market around HSCN. He sees a dozen or so suppliers already investing heavily in relevant services, and says others are talking with Innopsis about complying with the various standards.

This has been encouraged by the technical arrangements for HSCN: it will work through a peering exchange, where independent networks can connect, at two carrier neutral data centres.

“Anyone who can deliver services can connect to the peering exchanges so their cost of delivery is heavily reduced,” Bowyer says, adding: “You can be a small or large vendor and the model works the same way.

“Anyone can play in the market, which is very important. Local organisations want to buy locally as some of local suppliers can be innovative, and they can play in this market and deliver connectivity to the HSCN community. That’s why this model is so exciting.”

Staggered migration

While the underlying N3 contract is due to expire next April, organisations have their own termination dates and the migration will be staggered, with Bowyer saying this is likely to last about 18 months. He says there has already been plenty of interest from their IT professionals in the roadshows staged by NHS Digital, and urges any that have not made a move to approach its transition team or Innopsis.

He also encourages them to look at doing a lot more than obtain a like-for-like replacement.

“If I was a user I would be asking not simply to procure a line,” he says. “HSCN gives them opportunity to procure something different and more suitable for their networking requirements, and they can be pretty confident that the commercial aspects will suit their budgetary requirements.

“The beauty of HSCN is that it is a disaggregated model, so the reach will be far wider and deeper than the current N3 model, and the services have been updated to reflect healthcare needs.”

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