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NHS orgs not keen on UK gov's mega-intranet

The other PSN also makes people nervous

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NHS organisations in England are showing a reluctance to consider future use of the Public Service Network (PSN), according to officials and a supplier taking part in its early implementation.

Bringing healthcare bodies within the PSN – the "network of networks" for which the Cabinet Office recently launched the first procurements – is seen as a key factor in achieving its full potential. But concerns about security protocols, uncertainty over the reform of the NHS and uncertainty over the advantages of the N3 broadband network are all making IT chiefs reluctant to talk about hooking up to the network.

The issue was highlighted in a round table discussion on the PSN organised by networks provider Updata. Jeff Walbank, principal deployment officer of the Kent PSN, identified two major issues in encouraging its take-up by the NHS. One is that trusts are already obtaining network services through N3, which was constructed as part of England's NHS National Programme for IT (NPfIT), and feel no immediate need to take on the extra costs of using the PSN. The other is that they have met the Information Government Statement of Compliance (IGSoC) to use N3, and would have to deal with another code of compliance to make connections with other public sector agencies.

"N3 is a PSN-compliant service, but the attitude is that it's not allowed if it's not from the NHS," he said. "As long as the Department of Health keeps subsidising healthcare-based networks that are only used by that community, it will be a barrier."

One of the big advantages claimed for the PSN is that it will support collaborative working in the public sector, but attitudes to data sharing in the NHS can be defensive, and this is undermining efforts to sell the advantages of the new network.

Other concerns derive from structural changes in the NHS. John Brown, the technical lead for the Yorkshire and Humberside PSN project, said primary care trusts are wary of getting into something while knowing they are unlikely to exist in 18 months. It was also pointed out that some hospitals have been built under private finance initiatives that include infrastructure and are subject to contracts with many years to run.

The effects of this were summed up by Richard Bennett, executive director of Updata, who said it is difficult to talk to NHS organisations about PSN networks because N3 provides their secure connections and the Department of Health meets much of the cost of using it. "The PSN seems to be gathering momentum, but because of N3 no-one in healthcare is embracing it. There is a danger it will be built without buy-in from healthcare."

Brown warned that the full cost savings will not be achieved unless there is take-up from the NHS. It is a big spender on networks and would help to provide the scale that would bring the full value to the PSN.

In response, Simon Norbury, the official for local government transition to the PSN in the Cabinet Office, said that the Cabinet Office is aware of the need to deal with the issue. "It's an issue to be rooted out, and we've been engaging with NPfIT and working on what it is local authorities and healthcare want from each other, and looking at how we might put it into the picture," he said. "The programme is about security and information assurance, not just rolling out the connections, and we need to take a series of steps to get to where we want to go."

He added: "The PSN is moving to begin to break these things down, and I think you will see them broken down over time. There is a need to get over these barriers."

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

Guardian Government Computing is a business division of Guardian Professional, and covers the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. For updates on public sector IT, join the Government Computing Network here.

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