What’s the difference between N3 and HSCN?

The NHS is a massive organisation with a budget of around £100 billion per annum and more than 1.4 million staff. It’s the UK’s biggest employer and, as you might guess, extremely data hungry.

To deal with this, suppliers developed specific data-sharing networks that would allow health and social care providers to securely share information with each other. The first was called “N3.” However, due to limitations, the sector is now moving over to HSCN – a more capable model.

What Was N3?

N3 was the NHS’s previous broadband network. It connected all NHS locations and more than a million employees, providing connectivity for surgeries, pharmacies and countless other authorised service providers across the country. BT set it up in 2003, allowing agents in the network to securely share sensitive patient data.

Unfortunately, as technology advanced, the limitations of N3 became increasingly apparent. For instance, the network struggled to incorporate new apps and processes, making it impractical for use long-term. There were also security concerns and issues with cost.

What is HSCN?

Because of this, healthcare managers decided to upgrade the system to the HSCN (Health and Social Care Network) in 2015. HSCN is essentially an upgraded form of N3 that is more compatible with today’s technology ecosystem. Developers designed it to improve collaboration and reliability while boosting flexibility for health and social care organisations. HSCN is more of a platform or “marketplace” that provides customers with more choice over the suppliers they use as opposed to N3 which restricted choice. The hope is that competition afforded by the new HSCN will improve quality and give healthcare managers more control over their operations. Unlike N3, the new system does not restrict them to approved suppliers only.

What Will HSCN Achieve?

HSCN is a stepping stone on the path towards full digital healthcare services in the UK. The hope is that the project will move the country towards providing all healthcare services over the internet.

HSCN has several aims. These include:

  1. Moving health and social care providers away from legacy systems and onto cloud-based platforms
  2. Improving the reliability and flexibility of data sharing among healthcare providers
  3. Building a more competitive marketplace where the best services win out, thereby improving the ability of service providers to make choices about the solutions they employ
  4. Making it easier to share resources between health and social care services
  5. Improving access to healthcare-critical digital services that are not available over the internet.
  6. Improving regional collaboration and enabling flexible working.

How Does HSCN Differ From N3?

Architects designed N3 as a service that would connect NHS providers to single, nationally-approved applications. Because of this, service providers had to accept the solutions the platform offered. They couldn’t change services, even if they didn’t like them.

HSCN changes the dynamic entirely by granting access to multiple suppliers. Opening up a marketplace should encourage sellers to offer better, more convenient and user-friendly applications.

However, improved service provision isn’t the only reason to upgrade to HSCN. The platform also offers vast improvements in analysis functions and security monitoring, helping with compliance. For instance, The Network Analysis Service (NAS) tracks all new and anomalous behaviour over the network and, if necessary, takes action to prevent a breach. HSCN also sees the introduction of the Secure Boundary internet filtering service which, the NHS claims, “protects organisations from the most sophisticated network security threats.” Lastly, HSCN introduces cloud-based Domain Name Systems that integrate with the National Cyber Security Centre’s Protective DNS, hampering the distribution of certain types of malware.

There are quality of life improvements too. For example, providers can use HSCN to quickly send secure information to partner organisations. Furthermore, better access to NHS Digital’s national applications make it easier to confirm patient details, such as NHS numbers and shared care plans.

Cost savings are another feature. HSCN should offer cheaper network connectivity than N3 thanks to the introduction of competition. Again, it is all because providers have more choice.


In summary, HSCN is an updated version of N3 designed to meet the current network challenges of the NHS. While both offer service providers connectivity, HSCN improves on the original model by offering more choice, faster connections, and better collaboration. Critically, it introduces better centralised security that helps foster compliance on localised networks.

We offer a comprehensive HSCN Connection service at very competitive prices. If you have a question about your existing N3 connection or want advice on how to move from N3 to HSCN, please give our team a call. We would be happy to offer any assistance we can.