Headlines: February 20th, 2004

The National Health Service is to be the first major user of significant broadband capacity in the public sector. It follows the announcement that BT has been awarded a 530 million pound contract to provide and manage a broadband network to link all health service organisations in England.The New National Network, also known as N3, will provide a platform on which to run new systems being delivered by the national programme for IT. It will cover all 18,000 NHS locations and sites rather than the 10,000, covered under the current NHSnet contract.

It is also expected that N3 will provide the technology to benefit patients by speeding up the transfer of key clinical data between organisations. In addition, it will enable faster electronic transmission of visual data, including x-rays and video.

Health Minister John Hutton said the service was leading the way by becoming the first major user in the public sector of broadband. Its contribution to the Broadband Britain initiative would mean more rural households would have access to broadband services. Richard Granger, Director General of NHS IT said the new network was a critical component of the infrastructure required to modernise healthcare delivery. E-commerce Minister Stephen Timms welcomed the contribution the programme would make to the government’s target to have the most extensive and competitive broadband market of the G7 countries by 2005. Areas previously considered too remote and uneconomic for broadband would benefit particularly.

N3 will be able to transmit voice and video information as well as data including e-mails, medical information, test results and GP payment information. NHS organisations will also be able to use the network for their telephone systems, leading to significant savings in the NHS’s phone bill.

All confidential medical information transmitted over the network will be secured using industry standard security protocols. Confidential medical information will be further protected by measures built into the NHS Care Records Service. The network has also been designed to reflect the critical nature of the services that will be run on it.