Networking suppliers around the UK are beginning to ramp up preparations to deliver services across the new Health and Social Care Network (HSCN), with Daisy Group and Redcentric the latest companies to be named as community network service providers (CN-SPs) by NHS Digital.
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HSCN replaces the old N3 NHS broadband service, which was delivered under a monopoly contract with BT, and is supposed to revolutionise how vital networking and communications services are procured and run in the UK health and social care sector.
This is at least in part because it is being opened up to multiple smaller suppliers, such as Daisy and Redcentric, in a competitive marketplace that will allow customers to obtain connectivity from multiple suppliers, and in collaboration with one another.
Eventually, HSCN will span NHS trusts, care commission groups, GP surgeries and a number of other health and social care sector organisations – even including retail pharmacies.
Daisy’s kitemark will let it operate in this newly established market, which is to be regulated by NHS Digital, subject to strict and common standards. It said it had invested heavily in achieving compliance status and was committed to providing the market with a “compelling offer”.
“Genuine competition in the healthcare connectivity market will drive up standards of reliability, security and service – all areas in which Daisy scores very highly,” said Daisy head of frameworks, Lynne Magennis. “It is always our aim to be our customers’ favourite supplier, and that is absolutely the case when it comes to the health and social care sector.”
“We are already the valued and trusted digital partner of many in the sector, from giant NHS trusts to small private care providers. It is now our intention to consolidate and expand upon that position.”
Redcentric, which also holds a three-year contract to run the HSCN peering exchange, a central “super-switch” which will connect the multiple network service providers selling HSCN services to NHS users and interconnect their networks, achieved stage two compliance towards the end of September 2017.
This means it can now physically connect and deliver live network services, not just market and sell HSCN connectivity.
The organisation went through an extensive and wide-ranging trial and audit process at two customer sites, which examined network performance, availability, security and continuity.
“From the outset, we have been passionately committed to the HSCN programme and driving a new generation of customer-led, market-aware solution provision for health and social care,” said Redcentric chief assurance officer Mark Hall.
“Our prompt and diligent approach to stage two compliance is a further illustration of both that commitment and our expertise and focus around healthcare,” he said. “It underpins how we are shaping our effort and endeavour to accelerate service delivery to allow our users to start taking the earliest possible advantage of HSCN.”
Slow transition process
HSCN will begin to connect its first NHS users later in October, although to begin with, the process of transitioning to the new service will be taken very slowly, with most customers remaining on a legacy version of BT’s N3 service called the Transition Network.
“We don’t want to prove the network works with a number of customers and then suddenly slap 1,000 more on to find there are issues,” HSCN programme director Dermot Ryan told Computer Weekly last month. “We want to grow in a controlled fashion and be sure we are happy HSCN is performing as anticipated.”
Michael Bowyer, director of public sector networking trade body Innopsis, said that what stage two compliance, such as Redcentric, has achieved was an important benchmark for supply-side investment in HSCN.
“It demonstrates suppliers are live, have made connections and are sending test data,” he said. “We never had that checkpoint on PSN [the existing Public Services Network], which is why we didn’t see voluntary industry investment until contracts were in place.”
“Under HSCN, we require suppliers to be stage two compliant before they can take part in procurements. This is the right type of engagement and investment because suppliers see the opportunity outweighs the investment,” said Bowyer.
“It is vital to create industry capability to churn the network as quickly as possible – HSCN is replacing an old network that is expensive and doesn’t do what its users want, so the demand to move is more urgent than ever,” he concluded.