Five National Health Services (NHS) Trusts will converge on internet protocol (IP) networks to save costs and increase capacity to send and share information.

BT announced it had won the contracts to develop Community of Interest Networks worth a combined £36 million. United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust, North Merseyside Health Informatics Service, Sussex Health Informatics Services, Peterborough and Stamford Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and the Kent and Medway Health Informatics Service are hoping to save money by combining voice, video and data calls over the same network.

Dr Mario Guarino, director of Kent and Medway Health Informatics Service, said: “We expect the new network will deliver significant networking cost savings for the community. When complete it will link up more than 260 sites, ranging from small sites to large acute hospitals. As well as underpinning NHS National Programme applications such as the NHS Care Records Service, the additional bandwidth will enable us to support a variety of local applications such as voice and video in the future.”

The deals will allow the trusts to take advantage of N3, the broadband network BT is building for the NHS as part of the National Programme for Information Technology (NPfIT).

Although N3 is nationally funded, NHS organisations may offer additional services over the network if they are locally funded. These include applications such as IP telephony and videoconferencing, as well as more efficient ways of dealing with calls, for example the ability to pass calls between GPs or hospitals during busy periods to ensure all calls are answered quickly and efficiently.

Essex NHS Strategic Health Authority, which awarded a similar contract to BT last year, has now completed its network. And the Community of Interest Networks are based on Cisco networking routers and switches and use Cisco software for security firewalls.

Richard Granger, director general of NHS Connecting for Health, said: “This is good news. It shows that progressive NHS Trusts are choosing to embrace technology for the benefit of patients and staff. It is particularly important at a local level that the NHS embraces the potential of the technology that the National Programme is delivering to benefit patients, healthcare professionals and the bottom line.

He said the development of these Community of Interest Networks offered the trusts the potential of broadband to run their operations more effectively. “It can allow information including scans and X-rays to be sent faster and save money on costs such as telephone services,” Granger said.

Merrill Hayes, programme manager in United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust IM&T department, said: “Our new network has enabled the Trust to implement successfully NHS Connecting for Health digital x-ray systems, known as Picture Archiving Communications Systems (PACS), to all Lincolnshire hospitals. This provides significant financial and clinical benefits. X- rays can now be moved between hospitals in seconds rather than days when film was used.”