Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust in south east London is investing £3 million in a new fibre-optic network from Virgin Media Business, with the aim of speeding up the response times for patients and reducing costs.

The new network will connect 65 sites, including learning centres, health clinics, hospitals and Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust's corporate Head Quarters in South East London. Once fully rolled out, it will give Oxleas' 4,000 care workers access to data speeds of up to 1Gbps.

Virgin Media Business claims that the super-fast network will enable teams at hospitals and clinics to spend more time with patients rather that waiting for emails to send or databases to load, and will save the trust £300,000 per year compared to alternative solutions.

Virgin Media Business' solution replaces the old N3 network, which Tristan David, head of ICT at Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust, says was unable to meet the demands of digital services like IP voice and video. As a result, the corporate and clinical systems were running far too slowly.

"Virgin Media Business took the time to listen, and worked with us to design a solution that met our needs perfectly, it's helped to boost performance and support new ways of working," said David.

"We're working hard to introduce innovative services to staff and patients and Virgin Media Business has helped us to make vital changes to our IT that will help us take advantage of new technology and dramatically improve our bottom line."

The network will not be fully rolled out until the end of the year, but the Trust has already begun installing IP voice facilities and it is looking to equip staff with video conferencing and remote working capabilities to help make sure that they can communicate, wherever they happen to be.

"With every pound spent being closely watched by the government, public sector organisations often find it hard to justify the cost required to install the latest technologies," said Lee Hull, director of public sector at Virgin Media Business.

"But this example is proof that high-speed networks can deliver better frontline care at the same time as cost savings."

The news does not bode well for the future of the N3 network, which was established in 2004 and provides hospitals, medical centres and GPs with a range of services that are delivered via BT. N3 is used by one million healthcare staff and carries 250 terabytes of data each month.

In 2011, the capacity on N3 was increased to 5Gbps, and traffic prioritisation was improved to guarantee faster emergency communications.

However, BT's contract is due to expire in 2013/14, and Jon Williams, strategic and commercial advisor for the PSN Programme at the Cabinet Office, told Techworld's sister title Computerworld UK that the next network, which is being dubbed 'N4', will not be a like-for-like replacement for N3.

The government is currently working on making the N3 network PSN compliant and, once the N3 contract comes to an end, the government plans to let Connecting for Health manage the services and applications that can be currently procured through N3, and let a number of service providers deliver these via PSN compliant networks.

"It's intended to provide the edge-to-edge delivery of health services, particularly where they are accessing core applications. So all of the services that people are used to today, the back-end will remain the responsibility of Connect for Health," said Williams.