• Migration of all NHS organisations to new national IT network hits fresh delays, with less than 4 per cent of services switched over
  • NHS Digital says “delays in vendor handover” to blame
  • Incumbent provider BT paid £37m last year, NHS Digital’s biggest supplier payment
  • Switch can save NHS organisations up to 70 per cent, says NHS Digital

Plans to move the NHS to a new national IT network by 2020 are in doubt because of “vendor handover” delays.

Thousands of health and social care organisations need to move from the “transitional” network, supplied by incumbent British Telecom, to a new Health and Social Care Network by August 2020.

Both the old and new networks are used to securely connect NHS organisations to each other, national electronic services, and the wider internet.

In October last year, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority rated the move to HSCN “amber” and approved an amended business case. It stated the project was “on track to deliver” on time and within the whole life £699.5m budget.

However, a paper that went to the NHS Digital board this month showed the project has since been rated “amber-red” and was expected to remain at risk for at least the next three months.

The paper stated that a separate IPA review in July this year, which has not been published, noted a “significant amount of risk remaining in migrating customers… to HSCN by August 2020 and that this activity was approximately six months behind expectation”.

NHS Digital, which manages HSCN delivery for the Department of Health and Social Care, expected project costs to be £2.7m higher than budgeted for in 2018-19 because of “delays in vendor handover” between new suppliers and BT.

NHS Digital records show the agency paid BT £37.7m in 2017-18, more than any other organisation. It is not clear whether all these expenses relate to running the transitional network.

In response to questions from HSJ, an NHS Digital spokesman said the switch was “being delivered and migrated within our expected timescales once orders were placed with replacement suppliers”.

Thus far, 186 NHS and social care organisations, running 383 services, have migrated to an HSCN connection. This is about 3.3 per cent of all health and social care services that need to make the switch by 2020 and 15 per cent of all NHS organisations.

Three out of four health and social care organisations have already signed a contract to move to HSCN and are waiting to migrate.

Steps to speed up migration include supporting NHS organisations to migrate “as promptly as possible”, ensuring new suppliers meet network requirements and working with BT to allow for “higher peak volumes of migration over the next two years”.

Organisations that have made the switch thus far had reported savings of between 50 and 70 per cent, the spokesman said.

“The HSCN deals done to date demonstrate that moving to HSCN is better value for money,” he added.

HSCN was intended to replace BT’s N3 network, which has been running since 2006.

However, when the N3 contract expired in April 2014, no single successor was found, and BT’s contract had to be extended to March 2017.

After the extension, NHS Digital, then the Health and Social Care Information Centre, said the BT network would be replaced by a network of competing suppliers, called HSCN, with local NHS organisations able to pick and choose.

When HSCN was not fully in place by March 2017, BT was contracted again to move NHS organisations from N3 onto a “transitional network”, which would remain in place through to 2020 while they migrated to the new system.

Seventeen suppliers, including BT, are accredited to supply HSCN connections.

The story was amended on 30 October, to reflect additional information provided by NHS Digital regarding the timing of the IPA review, and NHS Digital’s expected timeframe for delivering HSCN.