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‘The HSCN is the realisation of industry best practice’

Source: PSE Jun/Jul 17

Keith Smith, public sector business development manager at Virgin Media Business, tells PSE’s Luana Salles that health and social care organisations must kick-start the move to the Health and Social Care Network (HSCN) immediately in order to reap the most benefits from their new suppliers.

After more than a decade in operation, N3, the national broadband network for the NHS in England, is drawing to a close – and a much larger and diverse service is currently underway to take its place.

The HSCN, captained by NHS Digital, will replace the single-supplier model of its predecessor with a standards-based environment that will enable multiple suppliers to provide interoperable services to health and care organisations across the country. Amongst other benefits when compared to the N3 private network – which is no longer considered fit for purpose in face of more modern and mobile workforce needs – HSCN will offer customers a more competitive marketplace designed to nurture innovation and efficiency, as well as a wider span of choices to suit each organisation’s specific requirements. 

Rather than being managed exclusively by one organisation, as is the case now, HSCN will be served by a nascent marketplace comprised of wide-ranging suppliers of all shapes and sizes, which together will allow organisations to access shared services and information regardless of their location. 

The role of industry 

HSCN came to fruition with the help of Innopsis, the industry association born out of the Public Services Network (PSN) governing body, which has been working closely with NHS Digital in order to shape the network – of which Virgin Media Business is a core member. 

Keith Smith, a business development manager within the public sector team, explained that his company’s seat at the Innopsis table is natural given its long heritage in the public sector. “Credentials with respect to PSN, for example, started back in 2009 when we won the Hampshire PSN,” he told us. 

“Since then, we won a number of regional PSNs: London, Cambridgeshire, Yorkshire, and so forth. We became the first supplier to gain Direct Network Service Provider certification on PSN, and the first provider to attain Government Conveyance Network provider status. We’re certificate number 001 in both cases.” 

Virgin Media Business became one of Innopsis’ founding members and participated in the HSCN standards definition work. “We helped NHS Digital to review and shape obligations, and the Deed – the commercial terms and standards that would be used,” said Smith. “And we helped to identify the potential pitfalls: where there were aspirations that perhaps couldn’t be met by industry technically, or where if they could be met it would be far too cost-prohibitive to be practical. 

“We were able to work with our industry colleagues through the association, flag these pitfalls in the early phases, and then work with NHS Digital collectively to identify the best way to avoid these problems – and in so doing, help define a marketplace in which everybody can play.” 

The work to highlight such pitfalls was carried out both by speaking with customers and using the organisation’s experience and knowledge “from spending so many years in the public services marketplace as a whole”. 

“All the experience we gained during the past eight years with PSN was brought to bear in the definition work for HSCN – and the lessons that we learned, that our customers learned and that our colleagues from across the industry learned were utilised in defining the HSCN,” continued Smith. “The HSCN is the realisation of not only industry best practice, but also real-world experience of how to actually make a success of these types of services.” 

As well as continuing to support collaboration between suppliers, the network’s environment will also cater to better data-sharing between health and care providers, creating a bridge between the NHS and local authorities that is unheard of at present. “The architecture of the HSCN absolutely lends itself to the introduction of efficiencies and for information to be securely shared far more effectively between customers and suppliers than ever before,” said the business development manager. 

“Health entities will be able to interact with local authorities for the provision and use of social care in ways that, until now, have been extremely difficult if not impossible.” 

An all-encompassing portfolio 

In terms of Virgin Media Business’ health portfolio, Smith expects it to cover “HSCN-compliant connectivity in all its forms, including fixed, mobile and wireless”. The company will offer land services – to individual buildings and data centres – and telephony services, not only in the traditional sense but also including IPT and unified communications. 

“Cloud computing remains an important industry development and we support it. We actually have a product which is capable of connecting customers via their wide area network to a cloud platform such as Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services so that they can benefit from these cloud services without introducing the risks that they might otherwise experience on the internet. That’s quite an important development,” he said. 

“And, of course, conferencing. We expect conferencing services, especially video-enhanced collaboration, to explode over the coming years – the act of collaborating with people up and down the country, or right across the estate. We’ve already seen it within the enterprise environment, where it’s extremely common, and we expect it to become extremely common within the health environment too.” 

In addition to collaboration, the company’s conferencing services will enable frontline staff to reach out to patients more quickly and effectively. It can not only act as a practical solution to time-strapped GPs, but some services, such as the Virgin Media Business Telestroke Network – which uses high-resolution video conferencing to allow specialists to remotely diagnose stroke patients, accelerating treatment time and cutting down on travelling costs – have already proven to be literal life-savers. 

The time is now 

The network, which promises to completely transform how organisations procure connectivity services – especially in face of major ambitions such as ‘paperless 2020’ and the sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) – is due to go live in September. But organisations can, and should, get started on the groundwork. 

“What suppliers will be doing in the meantime, until it fully goes live later in the year, is offering their customers the connectivity which essentially gets them ready to go,” clarified Smith. 

“We are calling this ‘HSCN ready’: a customer can procure an HSCN-ready connection from us and use it for internal communications now, then once the full environment goes live in September, our customers will be able to utilise the full capabilities of their HSCN connections.

“The most important piece of advice to customers would be to get started now. There’s a lot to do, including requirements collation, estate identification and procurement readiness. 

“A secondary element would be to consider what the service management needs of their estate truly are. Under N3, health entities had what some would categorise as a ‘gold-plated service’ right across the board. That’s extremely convenient, but do they really need that absolutely everywhere? 

“It’s the customer’s decision to make, but they may find that in considering this question, they can then unlock even more savings. And this is one of the areas of differentiation that all suppliers in this market will be able to offer: customised service aligned to the needs of individual customers within their individual regions.” 

When asked to leave providers with one key message, Smith reiterated: “Don’t wait – get started now. We can help our customers with procurement advice and transition guidance. NHS Digital, to its absolute credit, is providing excellent advice and services to the health community as a whole – so if a customer doesn’t necessarily want to engage with the supplier community before executing a procurement, they can engage directly with NHS Digital and get advice that way. 

“But I think my message would be: HSCN has started, and it’s OK to ask for help.”





Peter   10/07/2017 at 12:43

HSCN is a great step forward in joining up the Health / Care sector to provide effective and efficient services for people across all services. There are two dependencies : a) NHS digital have to allow Local Government Networks to connect directly to this new network on the basis of their PSN accreditation and NHS Toolkit compliance and not requires another specific Code of Connection. b) NHS Digital, NHS England, the NDG and IGA need to get together and define an Information Governance framework on the back of the EU-GDPR to allow the data to flow more freely around the system. Without meeting these pre-requisites data will continue to reside inside the NHS and the aspiration of a joined up Health / Social Care system will not realise the potential efficiencies.

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