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NHS Digital provides Internet First guidance


Mark Say Managing Editor

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NHS Digital has urged health and social care organisations to look beyond using the dedicated network for their services to the public internet.

The technology provider for the care services has published early guidance for organisations to switch over the long term to the public internet, despite the ongoing roll out of the Health and Social Care Network (HSCN).

This comes a year after it implemented an Internet First policy for its own services, and reflects the Government Digital Service’s earlier indications that public authorities should look to use internet connections, which have become much more secure, in place of the Public Services Network.

“Making digital services available over the public internet supports the requirements for health and social care professionals to work flexibly from a variety of locations, using a range of access methods,” the NHS Digital guidance says.

“This will reduce complexity and costs for many organisations, particularly for small health and social care providers.”

Accessibility and interoperability

It says that publishing digital services on the internet will provide for easier access, improve interoperability, reduce complexity in network connectivity and support innovation by improving accessibility to other digital service providers.

Among the requirements is that connectivity should be sized to support the amount of internet traffic required for each site in an organisation, and that those that have to regularly upload data are likely to require a symmetric internet service, in which upload match download speeds.

The connectivity should also come with levels of resilience based on the criticality of internet traffic, ensuring the internet availability figures are aligned to those of the applications.

Security requirements include perimeter protection with context based access control and stateful firewall capabilities; and detection and reporting of anomalous network traffic.

There are also provisions for clinical safety, citing guidance on risk management first published by the Information Standards Board for Health and Social Care.

HSCN implementation

The HSCN was launched in 2017, replacing the previous N3 broadband network and with indications it could take three or four years for all organisations to join due to existing contracts.

While the guidance does not include any timeframe for moving beyond the HSCN, NHS Digital has described the network as supporting the shift to more internet based and public cloud services.

It also says it is intended that all NHS organisations should adhere to Internet First standards in procuring and managing digital services.

NHS Digital plans to follow up the move by publishing an Internet First Target Operating Model with associated standards.

Image by reynermedia, CC BY 2.0 through flickr

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