There’s no doubt that the UK government and the NHS have their work cut out when it comes to upgrading the legacy technology that underpins the health service. The BBC recently reported that the NHS still uses approximately 130,000 pagers – about 10% of the total number left in use globally, costing the service a staggering £6.6 million a year. At the root of the NHS’ problem is an IT system that is failing, with an outdated reliance on old technology, such as fax machines, and networks which are buckling under the strain caused by record-high patient figures and one of the world’s largest workforces.
The reality is that the NHS simply cannot afford to fall behind on medical and technological advances, especially with the increasing move towards patient self-care, and soaring patient demand for critical services. What’s more, as new technological advances come into play, the NHS must address the widening skills gap caused by the lack of training, and the need to empower their staff with the right tools and skills to deliver the services of today and tomorrow. Failure to address these worsening challenges could significantly see the NHS struggle to survive, and while the expense of upgrading technology may seem like a luxury for a health service under greater financial pressure than ever before, its benefits are clear and digital transformation is high on the NHS’ priority list.
In 2017, the NHS launched its 5-year plan to advance healthcare services, specifically focusing on technological change. The jewel in the crown of the plan is the new Health and Social Care Network (HSCN), launched by NHS Digital, to replace the now-defunct N3 network. The new network is providing thousands of NHS sites – from hospitals to GPs – with enhanced connectivity and accessibility to new services, such as Wi-Fi, video conferencing services and cloud-hosted applications. HSCN introduces the efficient transfer of information across the network, through a central peering exchange, allowing for more volumes of data to be transferred between sites, and its managed, secure nature mitigates the risk surrounding data protection and privacy. And it’s not just about new services; for some, such as the University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust, the migration to the HSCN has been the difference between spending and saving an expected £500,000 per year, and has removed the burden caused by network saturation experienced on N3.
But while HSCN plays an important role in spurring on organisations to transform digitally, the negative experience suffered by many at the hands of the inadequate N3 means some NHS trusts around the country are daunted by HSCN migration. It is critical that migration to HSCN is seamless, causing as little disruption to patient care and to clinical staff as possible. Keeping costs low is also a key consideration, and to do so, organisations must partner with a connectivity provider that understands their individual needs, and offers a flexible, agile and adaptable solution that can grow and evolve alongside the organisations.
Migration to the HSCN is a great first step towards digital transformation for an NHS trust, but it is only the beginning. It is therefore crucial that those joining the network understand its potential, its value, and adapt to the change that comes with it. In doing so, organisations must start to see connectivity and IT as an enabler, not a burden, and the right solution from the right provider will be key to making digital transformation a reality.
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