28th April 2016
The N3 network serves more than 1.3 million NHS staff. It’s also opening up brand new IT opportunities that will drive efficiencies and save lives. But to enter this market you need to understand what it means to be on the N3.
The National Health Service relies more on technological innovation to drive essential efficiencies every day. This is opening up brand new business opportunities for IT companies that can offer solutions to help.
Already, the N3 network underpins many critical NHS services. The transmission of medical images, faster emergency response times, video conferencing and telemedicine are only a few areas where N3 has made a radical difference to patient care.
Any NHS site must now have an N3 connection, as must any NHS service provider. Security is the primary concern, alongside ensuring connectivity during periods of high Internet demand.
It was the N3 that kept vital data flowing between NHS sites during the 2012 Olympics, for instance.
The downside of N3 connectivity and accreditation, for prospective service providers wanting to break into this growing market, is the complexity of the process.
It can take a year or more to get connected by which time, great opportunities to introduce new technologies can have passed by.
So is it really necessary for an IT service provider to be on the N3 if they want to work with the NHS?
What is the N3 network?
The N3 is a secure, private broadband network that links NHS surgeries, hospitals and clinics with independent service provider platforms and the Internet. Aside from facilitating faster diagnosis, data sharing and emergency response times, the private, secure N3 network has also saved the NHS an estimated £100 million and made it a much greener organisation.
Dr David Pencheon, Director of NHS Sustainable Development Unit, said: “The beauty of N3 is that it allows us to move intelligence and information around the system, which is critical of high quality healthcare. That benefits the public, the patient, it benefits the professionals and it benefits the planet.”
The initial N3 network was started in 2004 as broadband started to take off. The old technology, NHSnet, was proving increasingly expensive, slow and inadequate for the demands of emerging bandwidth-hungry services.
Twelve years on and the N3 has, as you’d expect, evolved many times over - since 2007, it has received a technology refresh every two years. The network is now one of the largest private networks in the world with more than 51,000 connections, serving more than 1.3 million NHS employees, around a core of 58 points of presence, via 12,000 miles of fibre.
Without the N3 network, today’s NHS simply couldn’t function. 39,000 hospital appointments are booked via the N3 every day; 675,000 prescriptions are sent; medical staff use it to access patient data and images they need to provide critical patient care; NHS staff use it to access their email.
Knowing if you need N3 connectivity and what that means
Adopting new information and digital technologies is a priority for the NHS. It published a report in February 2016 - jointly with the US Department of Health and Human Services - focusing on steps that can be taken to ensure successful adoption and maximised technology utility.
Technology is undoubtedly going to play an increasingly important role in the future of healthcare. This will in turn create greater opportunities for IT businesses to offer their services to the NHS. But if your proposed solution facilitates access to patient identifiable data, you need to be on the N3 network.
The main concern for the NHS is making sure patient data is not accessible to unauthorised parties. If business deals in any way with allowing access to or storing patient identifiable data, all entry points to the relevant platform must be made via the N3.
Getting N3 accredited and certified
Because patient data protection is such a sensitive issue, the process of applying for and gaining N3 accreditation is lengthy and complex.
Security, compliance and governance are absolutely key and the NHS is very specific about what they require from suppliers and service providers. All patient identifiable data must be stored in England specifically rather than the wider UK, in an N3 compliant data centre.
Accreditation and certification processes are rigorous and carry burdens of time and cost. Completing the Information and Governance Statement of Compliance (IGSoC) alone can take months.
It’s possible to undertake the legalities of N3 compliance with no former experience but it will be a long-winded exercise. Anyone looking into N3 will know how confusing the process can be. When you factor in the cyclical nature of NHS budget assignment, time pressures can add unwanted frustration to this already complicated process.
Nobody can pretend N3 accreditation and certification is a simple case of signing up. However, a great deal of cost, time and hair pulling can be saved by engaging with a partner who’s done it before.
Why the NHS needs you to be on N3
Pressures on healthcare services mean the need for IT is only going to grow. Innovation is the key to driving the development and evolution that is needed to serve our growing, ageing population.
Without technology, the NHS would already have ground to a halt. N3 exists to facilitate the IT on which the service relies and is designed to grow to accommodate the demands of tomorrow.
By far the easiest way of getting onto the N3 is by working with a company who has helped others do it already. You need a data centre that’s already approved and that has the space to grow with you. You also need an experienced Governance team to steer you through IGSoC and keep up to date with changes to legislation.
You are the IT expert providing much-needed solutions to help improve healthcare for millions of people. Surely that’s worth getting on the N3 network?