Public Services > Healthcare

HSCN compliance checks to commence as N3 termination nears

Neil Merrett Published 28 October 2016

Innopsis argues that broad marketplace of both smaller and larger vendors will be a key measure of success for multi-supplier network agreement scheduled to replace outgoing N3 service


Interested vendors hoping to support the Health and Social Care Network (HSCN) will start to undertake assessments of whether they can comply with standards for the service over the next two months as it goes to market, according to Michael Bowyer of the Innopsis trade association.

The N3 network, implemented over a decade ago to connect healthcare bodies across England, is due to expire on April 1, 2017. In its place, HSCN is being targeted as a ‘carrier neutral network’ replacement that can serve as a first of its kind model for the wider public sector to follow.

The aim of the new agreement will be to move away from the N3 single supplier model approach by creating a multi-vendor marketplace for more disaggregated network services.

As part of this process, a tender has been launched over the last week for peering exchange services that will serve as a key component of the new network by allowing for interconnection between service providers with the aim of possible use across the wider public sector.  Suppliers have until December 5 to express an interest in the peering exchange agreement.

According to Bowyer, an initial tranche of 14 potential vendors are said to be ready to begin undertaking compliance checks for HSCN, which is seen as one of the largest infrastructure replacements projects of its kind in the last seven years.

Bowyer expressed confidence that the project was “tracking on time” at present, with the launch of a request for information (RFI) expected on October 31.  

“We are currently working under critical timescales, yet things are going to the business plan,” he added.

In replacing N3, Bowyer said work was underway with NHS Digital to put in place a new range of standards, as well as a compliance regime focused on issues such as security.  These standards are anticipated to support wider ambitions in UK health policy such as closer alignment with social care providers as a means to support integrated service provision.

With around six months until the end of the N3 contract, a transition contract is in place to allow for a more gradual transition over to HSCN for healthcare providers that may need to undertake migration that may allow for specific service testing.

Bowyer said that no specific time period or deadline had been set for completing the move away from N3 on to the new network service, with the transition agreement anticipated to last for between two or four years.

“It is not expected that we will need this period of time to transition over to HSCN, but it is there so that system migration can be performed with the legacy network in place,” he said. 

Bowyer added that collaboration with suppliers and users had also been stepped up during the HSCN process, with NHS Digital having hosted seven road show events over the last month.  As part of this focus, the organisation has sought to provide guidance and communicate plans more clearly for the procurement process to replace the N3 network.  

In judging the overall success of HSCN procurement, Bowyer said he believe a key criteria for success would be the mix of both larger, as well as small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) working under a more flexible agreement that could better adapt to a changing technological landscape. 

Bowyer expected this to be one of the key differentiators from its previous work around the Public Services Network (PSN) in an attempt to enable more disaggregated contracts.

“PSN wasn’t quite able to level the playing field for vendors in the way we had hoped,” he said.

Related articles:

NHS organisations warned to sort out their post-N3 connectivity

NHS N3 network replacement tender set to launch by early 2016

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