The Government’s Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock MP, has today announced his intention to upgrade the National Health Service (NHS) with better digital connectivity, not least by ensuring that all GPs and Hospitals are connected to Gigabit capable “full fibre” connections (FTTP or leased lines).
A large number of NHS sites have already been connected to similar networks by various different ISPs, although some reports have noted that 39% of related organisations are still using slow copper lines and on top of that 80% of GP practices could soon be using outdated IT systems (here), which are not suitable for the demands of future care.
The first sign of a possible change in approach came last year after Matt Hancock MP called on Openreach (BT) to help him ensure that “every single GP” could get access to a “full fibre” broadband connection. In response the operator’s CEO, Clive Selley, is claimed to have said, “send me their addresses” (here).
However Openreach are not the only player in town, even though they seem likely to do most of the work, and today’s announcement makes no mention of any operator preference. Instead Matt’s speech to the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) technology conference set out a broader strategy, under the NHS Long Term Plan.
Matt Hancock MP said:
“Every day, our NHS staff do amazing work – but too often they are let down by outdated and unreliable technology. It’s simply unbelievable that a third of NHS organisations are using internet that can sometimes be little better than dial-up.
To give people control over how they access NHS services, I want to unlock the full potential of technology – this is the future for our 21st century healthcare system and a central part of our NHS Long Term Plan.
Faster broadband connections can help us deliver these dramatic improvements – we need clinicians and other healthcare professionals to feel confident they can access fast, reliable broadband so they can provide patients with the best possible care.”
The funding for this looks set to come from a combination of sources, including the NHS Digital’s Health and Social Care Network (HSCN) Marketplace and the on-going Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme (GBVS). Similarly the forthcoming £200m Rural Gigabit Broadband Connectivity (RGBC) programme, which is expected to offer similar support to homes in rural areas, may help link up some of the more remote sites.
We’ve already seen how a related pilot under the Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) programme has been used to bring full fibre to 100 rural schools (here) and something similar for the NHS seems very plausible.
Under the existing plan only around 70% of NHS organisations will have full fibre connectivity using leased lines by August 2020, thus tackling the final 30% seems likely to require a longer time-scale.
We’ve had a comment from Openreach.
Kim Mears, OR’s MD for Strategic Infrastructure Development, said:
“Our network already connects thousands of NHS sites across the country, and we’re keen to work with the health secretary as we build future proof FTTP broadband infrastructure across the UK.
We believe our network can do even more for patients and healthcare professionals, and we’re talking to all parts of government about how to encourage greater investment in full fibre broadband.”