North Staffordshire NHS Trust has awarded a contract to Updata Infrastructure to connect 112 NHS sites across the region with a new Community of Interest Network (COIN).

The network will give North Staffordshire access to 2Mbps and 10Mbps Ethernet in the First Mile (EFM) connection, which the Trust’s network and systems manager Richard McCue described as the “next step up from broadband”.

The EFM technology also provides 10Mbps bandwidth at a cheaper rate than fibre, which is where the Trust expects annual £100,000 cost-savings to come from. It also expects to have return on investment within two years.

“Our new COIN will provide a range of networking technologies that were simply not available  under our previous contract,” said McCue, who did not wish to reveal the names of the current suppliers.

“Making greater use of EFM enables us to reduce networking costs annually, provision new sites significantly more quickly, and because EFM uses a ‘bundle of circuits’, we have greater network failover. If an EFM service fails, we will have network degradation but it will not fail completely.”

Because the EFM technology is based on the phone line, rather than fibre, the Trust said it can now connect new sites to the network in 10 days instead of 90 days. It is also possible to scale down the number of sites more easily, if required.

Initially, the COIN will link together 112 NHS sites, including hospitals, primary care centres and dentist surgeries. This covers around 4,300 PCs, 3,000 phones and 7,000 users. Other local public organisations, such as councils, can also be connected to the network in the future.

“By reducing costs and provisioning time, we have more sites interested in connecting to the COIN,” said McCue. “Almost immediately following completion of the tender phase, we have five to six new sites, in addition to the initial 112, that would like to join the COIN. That is a good sign.”

In addition, the new network allows the Trust’s IT team to remotely deploy software and operating system patches from its central office, so that it no longer has to visit local sites to update systems.

Under the contract, Updata will build and manage the high-speed core network infrastructure, which will be based on a Gbps fibre ring, while the North Staffordshire IT support staff will control and manage the network infrastructure at end sites.

The new network will link into each of the 112 sites with a combination of 10Mbps EFM, ADSL or fibre services, depending on the requirements of each site. Sites requiring bandwidths of  more than 40Mbps will use fibre, which McCue said is more cost-effective.