What is HSCN? Your Guide to the Health & Social Care Network

In August 2020, the legacy N3 network was switched off, which meant healthcare organisations had to switch to the Health and Social Care Network, known as HSCN. This transition aligns with the NHS Digital Internet First policy unveiled in 2018, which was part of a wider plan to modernise the NHS systems by providing users with open access to web-based services. This speeds up much-needed innovation within both the public and private healthcare sectors, making patient information accessible to all healthcare professionals, replacing legacy systems, streamlining archaic healthcare processes, and greatly benefiting patients and staff. 


In November 2020, it was reported that all 12,000 site locations had transitioned to the new Health and Social Care Network, with the NHS estimating the new network will save £75m annually. Patrick Clark, HSCN programme director at NHS Digital, said it was a “hugely significant achievement” and was the largest public sector data network migration ever completed.


But what exactly is HSCN? And does your organisation need it? Read more below.


What is HSCN? 

HSCN is the new standards-based data network for the National Health Service (NHS) in England. HSCN replaced the N3 network in a transition that came to an end in November 2020. The N3 network was a broadband network used by the NHS which connected all NHS locations and employees across the country, the network was shutdown in August 2020. But, HSCN offers better, widespread digital connectivity and supports a new and exciting way of working. As technology develops and evolves, it’s essential organisations embrace and accept digital growth in the form of HSCN.


Alongside the more apparent benefits of HSCN, such as improved patient visibility, more advanced data sharing, and increased team collaboration — this network also provides an opportunity for healthcare providers to save more network connectivity costs than the N3 network offered. Because various partners deliver the HSCN, organisations can benefit from a competitive marketplace and, once implemented, can transform their health and social care organisation for the better.


Unlike the N3 network, the HSCN network offers better connectivity for healthcare providers, both NHS and non-NHS. It’s a reliable network system where all healthcare providers can share and access patient data, enabling more intelligent ways of working remotely. Because this network is more widely accessible for all healthcare organisations, those that are set up to run on this new network can build and effortlessly deliver a patient-centric service.


The benefits of HSCN 

Although accepting and embracing a new digital transition can be daunting, there are plenty of reasons why it’s worth wrapping your head around the HSCN and seeking out a connection. Here are a few of those benefits:

You can choose the kind of connectivity you want and reduce costs

The payment process that came with N3 has been overhauled in favour of a more managed process. Just like with N3, organisations have full control over determining what kind of connectivity they want and when they want it to start from. A competitive supplier marketplace means ultimate choice for organisations, which reduces capital expenditure.

You can deliver better-informed care

Data gives your employees access to all kinds of possibilities. With data, your decisions become more precise, and you’re able to work more collaboratively. For example, nurses undertaking at-home patient visits can access all patient details wherever they are. The information they can access securely on the go includes medical history, scans, and medication lists. Staff can also take and upload notes from the appointment, which then become immediately available to other healthcare professionals using the HSCN. The ability to access important clinical and patient information becomes effortless, and shared networks and integrated ICT services help support a more agile way of working, supporting both remote and mobile staff.

It’s easy to access

Once you’re connected to HSCN – regardless of your network provider or the location you’re in – you can readily access information and services. Multiple suppliers come together to act as a single network, which is what makes data and information sharing so easy. HSCN remote access uses access solutions, including two-factor authentication tokens, which is based on software, a smart device, or hardware.

It’s a more advanced network

HSCN champions a new, modern approach to health and social care in the community. HSCN offers remote access through advanced authentication and tunnel encryption, meaning organisations can quickly access key NHS systems such as medical records, the Electronic Prescriptions Service and digital imaging services. The network also supports video consultations, virtual desktop infrastructure and VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) for reliable and flexible healthcare.

HSCN is a step towards a better future

Technology is enhancing the professional world around us, and the healthcare sector mustn’t be left behind. Just like any industry, health and social care requirements had changed over the last 14 years when N3 was first built and implemented, so the HSCN is a crucial step forward for the sector. The N3 network was considered a legacy technology that was slow and unfit for purpose. The new Internet First vision means all healthcare organisations are working toward the same goals — to improve the quality of care patients receive across locations, to enhance collaboration between service providers, to drive transformation, and to work towards a paperless environment. All this and more is made possible with HSCN.

Suggested reading: Why HSCN is better than N3


Is HSCN secure?

In the modern world, data breaches are a significant concern for consumers and organisations, particularly after NHS cyberattacks such as WannaCry in 2017. This particular cyberattack cost the NHS £92m after 19,000 appointments were cancelled, so that’s why your organisation must take all precautions to protect all data when transferring it through HSCN. 


The HSCN network includes comprehensive security monitoring and analysis functionality, enabling organisations to track traffic that flows through HSCN and quickly identify issues for resolving. But although security is improved, NHS Digital has stated the HSCN should not be considered a secure network.


Person/Patient Identifiable Data (PID) is not automatically encrypted when using HSCN, so NHS Digital cannot guarantee the security of this data or any communications. Instead, NHS Digital advises that all organisations should encrypt all sensitive data including patient data before sending it across any network, using a UK sovereign data centre. The responsibility for this encryption sits with the health or social care organisation, who must submit and maintain their Data Security and Protection Toolkit (DSPT) on an annual basis to access NHS patient data and systems as part of their HSCN Connection Agreement.


In recent years, NHS Digital has been implementing an aggressive programme to tackle cybersecurity issues, including better support and guidance for local organisations and better digital training and cybersecurity best practice among NHS staff and organisations.


Does your organisation need to connect to HSCN?

If your organisation needs to access or share patient data and records or shares any healthcare information, it could benefit greatly from connecting to HSCN. This network enables a frictionless relationship between everyone working in healthcare — from NHS staff to application providers; everyone will benefit from a 360-degree view of patient records and service data.


If your organisation falls under one of the categories below, you will benefit from using HSCN.

  • GPs
  • CCGs
  • NHS Trusts
  • Hospitals
  • Community and mental health care
  • Non-NHS local government and third sector providers


How can you connect to HSCN?

You can connect to HSCN by following the four steps below. 


The HSCN framework is not centrally funded, but IT managers can still access the same funding. Because it’s not centrally funded, this means organisations aren’t restricted to just one supplier. Your health and social care organisation can connect with confidence, choosing from a list of 21 trusted suppliers providing standardised network services within a competitive marketplace. NHS Digital suggests organisations collect several quotes before landing on a preferred provider.


1. Find a compliant supplier

To connect to HSCN, you must first contact your chosen compliant supplier called a consumer network service provider (CN-SPs). 

All CN-SPs are connected through a peering exchange (two networks coming together to exchange traffic) — so irrespective of which supplier you choose, you can still share information freely with other organisations connected to HSCN. 


2. Complete a HSCN Connection Agreement

After that, you must complete a HSCN Connection Agreement. This agreement has replaced the original N3 Information Governance State of Compliance (IGSoC). The agreement sets out requirements customers must adhere to before and while using HSCN, and you only need to sign one, regardless of how many locations you have. 


3. Buy your HSCN connection 

The next step is to buy your HSCN connection. HSCN connectivity can be bought through your chosen consumer network service provider. 


4. Connect to HSCN

The fourth and final step is to connect to the health and social care network itself. The NHS has broken the connectivity options down for organisations to understand and digest easily. They’ve created a lengthy web page filled with eleven different consumer scenarios to help you figure out which HSCN connectivity option is best suited for your organisation. 


Alternatively, you can contact a compliant, trusted partner, such as Redcentric, who can explain the best connectivity option for your site. The scenarios created range from small sites such as clinics or GP surgeries to large sites such as hospital trusts or large clinics, as well as shared premises and national data centres.


At Redcentric, we can work with you regardless of your site size. We have a longstanding relationship with NHS Digital, and network migration is one of our core competencies – it’s what we do. Thousands of healthcare providers have entrusted us with the migration of their network with successful outcomes. Providers feel engaged and guided through this essential digital transition. 


As with any new digital infrastructure, HSCN will — and has already — relieved a lot of pressure faced by health and social care organisations that were using the archaic legacy tech of the N3 network. HSCN has the power to streamline and support better NHS service delivery across the country as they move forward into this new and exciting digital era. 


So, why choose Redcentric to help you?

We’re a trusted partner with substantial experience in the healthcare sector (almost two decades), which means we’re best placed to connect your organisation to HSCN. We intimately understand the challenges facing health and social care providers. We can provide your organisation with a reliable and secure HSCN connection to deliver a better, more effective patient experience. 


We can help you reduce the cost and time associated with connecting to HSCN. Working with us means you don’t have to rely on internal knowledge; we fully manage the HSCN onboarding process with our expert HSCN Governance team. We’ve already helped many organisations make the move to HSCN with confidence; let us help you too.


Benefit summary of choosing Redcentric:

  • We have a dedicated expert HSCN Governance team
  • We will manage the entire project
  • We’re a HSCN consumer network service provider (CN-SP)
  • We’re a G-Cloud Assured Supplier
  • We will ensure your organisation is compliant
  • We’ve already successfully connected thousands of organisations
  • We provide support and guidance throughout the process
  • We deliver a high-quality and trusted service

Read more about how Redcentric can help your organisation connect to the HSCN here or get in touch with our team to discuss your needs today.

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