London-wide Pilot Links up NHS Phone Lines to Single Broadband Network

NHS trusts across London stand to benefit from significantly reduced phone charges thanks to a large-scale pilot that will connect individual voice networks to N3 – the NHS national broadband network BT has rolled out as part of the National Programme for Information Technology (NPfIT).

N3, the internet protocol-based network which underpins the National Programme, has recently been enabled to carry phone calls using voice over internet protocol technology (VoIP). This means NHS organisations can make substantial savings on communications by converging their voice and data over a single network. Savings that can be transferred to directly improving patient care.

In a move to exploit the investment and capability of the network, London trusts are being offered free connections to the N3 Local Gateway Service, allowing them to call each other for free. Trusts will also benefit from a nationally negotiated reduced tariff for mobile calls, thanks to a partnership with mobile network operator O2.

Currently 21 trusts in London have joined the pilot, with another 26 ready to proceed. Several more are expected to sign up before funding expires on December 31 2007.

North West London Hospitals NHS Trust was the first trust to sign up to the pilot, and went live in October. Rick Juniper, Director of ICT at the trust said:

“Converging our voice and data over one single network has provided us with a simple and efficient way to manage our communications needs. It also presents a significant opportunity for us to quickly reduce our telephony costs. Currently, most of our call charges from landlines are spent on calling mobiles. The offer of nationally negotiated rates for fixed to mobile calls will lead to substantial savings, which can be re-invested back into local service improvements.”

Stuart Hill, CEO, N3 Service Provider, said: “This is a great example of the wide-reaching benefits that the N3 Network is capable of delivering. The ability to call other NHS trusts connected to the N3 gateway is just the first step in NHS London being able to exploit new and future communications technologies, such as ubiquitous WiFi, Wearable Communications, patient and asset tracking, and VoIP smart phones, utilising the N3 network as they become available.

“However, for NHS London to fully exploit this opportunity, it is necessary for as many trusts as possible to fully engage in the pilot. The more trusts that sign up, the bigger the benefits, making it important for remaining trusts to come onboard before funding is withdrawn in four week’s time.”

NHS Connecting for Health has part-funded the pilot with BT to explore the benefits of the N3 Local Gateway Service across a large scale community. The outcomes are expected to influence the uptake of services in other regions.

Costs to trusts are limited to the provision of a suitable signalling interface card to connect to the N3 Local Gateway Service, software configuration charges and a monthly management fee.