Ian Wilcox, Director of Health Sector Business Development at MLL Telecom, discusses what health and social care organisations need to consider following the announcement of the new Internet First policy
Recently, NHS Digital announced its Internet First policy for health and care services across the UK. The Internet First policy is the latest development in the NHS’ digital strategy and is aimed at transforming connectivity for health and care services to make external digital services more easily accessible—it will do so by moving services from private to public networks. The policy will also improve interoperability between digital services, replacing outdated legacy systems to iron out longstanding network connectivity issues for health and social care organisations.
Internet First is certainly an ambitious plan, and if it is successful, will completely overhaul the delivery of health and social care services in the UK. But the transition from a private to a public network will throw up some challenges, particularly where latency, reliance and security are concerned. So what should organisations think about when embracing this ‘Internet First’ policy?
Securing always-on connectivity
A key concern for health and social care organisations is the need for constant and continuous connectivity. These organisations need always-on access to patient records plus the speed and capacity to support the multi-disciplinary team (MDT) meetings. Health organisations simply cannot afford to suffer under the burden of lagging and slow networks. Internet First seeks to address this by ensuring that the network doesn’t become a barrier—the network must enable, not prevent. Organisations must, therefore, think carefully about their connectivity provision, particularly where network latency and availability are concerned. So as organisations move services to the cloud accessed over the Internet they must make sure their applications and services are robust enough to work in a public environment, and ensure they have sufficient back-up resources and capacity to cope with traffic demands, particularly during times of increased network traffic.
Dealing with public networks throws up some challenges from a security perspective. Public access increases the threat of security hacks and data leaks. For a health and social care organisation, when dealing with sensitive and critical patient data, security and data encryption must be a top priority. Failure to do so could see sensitive patient data fall into the wrong hands and could delay patient treatment. For many organisations, this risk is a new one as most will have benefitted from the built-in security of the now-defunct N3 network, or their current Health and Social Care Network (HSCN) walled garden connection. A security rethink will, therefore, be necessary; for example, what additional tools do organisations need to adopt to make data transfer secure over public internet? Is my current connectivity provider able to offer me the correct security services that will protect sensitive data and maintain access to critical cloud services in the event of cyber attack?
These are important questions that must be asked ahead of organisations moving to Internet First.
So where does Internet First leave HSCN?
For many, Internet First will seem like another ‘to do’ on a lengthy IT agenda; particularly for those organisations who have already taken the steps to migrate from N3 to HSCN. While Internet First may seem as though HSCN was all for nothing, this is far from the reality. HSCN is a stepping stone to Internet First, and will continue to be for some time yet. Indeed, HSCN has been key in overhauling legacy hardware infrastructure, and the enhanced connectivity will be critical in helping organisations make the transition to an Internet First approach.
The right partner
Health and social care organisations are facing increasing pressure to reduce costs while maintaining a high-level service to patients and staff. The right IT and connectivity tools will be key in making this happen. Internet First will completely redefine how NHS services are made available and how they are accessed. It will increase accessibility, interoperability and make the business of NHS connectivity a less complex one. But health and social care organisations can’t do it alone. The secret sauce to this is partnering with the right connectivity provider; one that understands the organisation’s needs, its requirements for connectivity and the type of applications or services it needs to deliver. Organisations must also think about their connectivity package; what kind of managed IT service do they need? Will they need additional services, such as consultancy or security.
Ultimately, Internet First is about getting the connectivity service that will futureproof the NHS and provide the best access to the digital services of today and tomorrow. For organisations, it is critical that they understand the options available to them when it comes to connectivity provisioning. The transition to an Internet First way of working need not be difficult, especially with the right partner at their side.
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