St Helens and Knowsley Hospitals NHS Trust are to build a community network linking all healthcare providers in its area.

The network, the first of its kind in the country, enables healthcare professionals such as GPs to electronically access patient records and results securely, speeding up treatment and supporting the integration of services for the area’s approximately 350,000 residents, extending into Halton in 2007.

The Trust is working with with ntl:Telewest Business to build the network. The five-year contract is worth £4.2 million.

By building a connected health community, linking 170 sites and spanning all major NHS IT applications, the Trust is estimated to save £1m per year in improved productivity and lower telephone costs.

Ann Marr, Chief Executive of St Helens and Knowsley Hospitals NHS Trust said: “We have a clear vision – to deliver the best possible service to our patients on a local level. To be the first in the UK to offer this system is tremendous and shows our commitment to a community-based network using advanced technology to bring 7,500 local staff together to give better, faster patient care. By working with ntl:Telewest Business we are able to deliver on our vision while generating £1m of efficiency savings that can be ploughed back into patient care.”

Part funded by the Connecting for Health programme along with the Trust, the robust direct fibre network features high levels of security and resilience to ensure uninterrupted service to the community. The Trust is running all local and national healthcare applications on the network, including email, patient records, test results, internet and intranet access as well as benefiting from cheaper voice calls through VoIP technology.

The project is due for completion in December 2007 and currently has been rolled out to main core hospitals, 20 GP practices and 3 Local Improvement Finance Trust (LIFT) schemes.

The new Trust network is part of a drive to implement Community of Interest Networks (COINs) that link local healthcare resources to provide faster and more efficient patient care.