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From N3 to the HSCN: What's the future for NHS Digital?

In this blog we’ll explore the history of N3 and the Health and Social Care Network (HSCN), how it came to be, and how transformation in the health sector could shape its future.

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What was N3?

Operated by British Telecom (BT) from 2004, the N3 was a network used by the NHS to connect locations and employees together using broadband. Its design was to facilitate data sharing across the NHS, including patient records. It allowed over a million NHS users to share data over high-speed internet, from pharmacies to GP offices, to various care record databases.

N3 itself was a replacement network - brought in to update NHS Net, which had been running since around 1995. Over time however, N3 became impractical for the long term thanks to cost, performance and security concerns. It was gradually phased out between 2015 and late 2020.

What is the HSCN?

Enter, the HSCN. Launched in 2015, the HSCN is essentially an upgraded form of the N3. It is intended to provide a solution for hospitals, medical centres and GPs to collaborate and access services over a single, secure high-speed network. The project was originally billed to be the ‘Public Services Network for Health’. You can read more about the PSN here.

The HSCN allows organisations to access a wide range of services, from essential NHS Digital applications like NHS Mail, and to SPINE, EMIS and SystmOne. It’s a rich community of resources from both public and private health organisations. For many organisations, a connection to the HSCN is essential to their daily operations, their ability to innovate, or both.

Unlike N3 which was solely run by BT, the HSCN gives customers a choice over who they want their HSCN provider to be. Organisations can now obtain an HSCN connection from any one of 21 CN-SP suppliers. The HSCN peering exchange is run by Redcentric under a recently renewed contract.

The future

More than ever, health applications and services are being migrated to cloud to leverage benefits including cost, flexibility and scalability. This is mirrored in the government’s Cloud First policy, which recommends that public cloud should be considered before other alternatives. 

The ‘marketplace’ nature of HSCN suits this aspiration, as it breeds competition and collaboration with cloud-native private health companies. It is now easier than ever for innovative applications built in public cloud to be delivered over the HSCN’s private network, or via the internet to the places and people that consume them. NHS Digital are transforming their native services to be more easily consumed via API, and any new developments must follow a set of agreed standards.

Demand for better service integration has led to NHS-D’s Internet First policy, dictating that all digital health services should be accessible over public internet.

According to some industry commentators, this could spell the end for the HSCN. Certainly, there is appetite in the public sector to migrate some (or all) of their applications from traditional DC hosted locations to cloud. However, it is perhaps more likely that those applications will need to be consumable through both the HSCN and the internet, at least for the time being.

Frequently asked questions

Got more questions about the HSCN? Check out our FAQ directory here, or get in touch with us!


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HSCN FAQ Directory

This directory has been created to provide you with answers the most commonly asked questions about the Health & Social Care Network (HSCN). Whether you're trying to identify the right provider for your requirements, or make sense of all the technical jargon, we've got you covered!