Nearly half of all hospitals in England and Wales face widespread disruption and device failures as the Wholesale Line Rental (WLR) withdrawal of Public Switch Telephone Network (PSTN) and Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) services approaches.
A Freedom of Information (FOI) request by Maintel, a cloud and managed services company, reveals that out of the 105 hospital trusts across England and Wales that responded, 44% have no strategy for the withdrawal.
And the size of the issue facing the UK healthcare sector is revealed, as the FOI also found that among the 56 NHS trusts which could respond, there is a staggering amount of PSTN/ISDN lines still installed – up to 10,315 in total.
Migrating all lines ahead of the 2025 WLR withdrawal is no small feat, but hospital decision-makers cannot wait any longer
Maintel states that, if the switchover is not done in time, it could lead to widespread disruption of healthcare services.
Services such as pagers, alarm lines, payment terminals, payphone lines, medical devices, and external connectivity to telephony systems could all be impacted.
Dan Davies, chief technology officer at Maintel, said: “Healthcare has a strong reliance on PSTN lines, not only for communication systems like the pagers used by doctors and other hospital staff, but also for actual medical devices.
“The lack of strategy for the WLR withdrawal among some hospital trusts is worrying, as the deadline is fast approaching and those that don’t change course face major disruption.
“Hospitals may not be able to meet safety standards and could be left in a position needing urgent and expensive workarounds to adhere to safety or insurance requirements.
“Telephony systems that connect to the outside world via ISDN could also be cut off, potentially impacting critical services.”
The lack of strategy for the WLR withdrawal among some hospital trusts is worrying, as the deadline is fast approaching and those that don’t change course face major disruption
While BT will switch off the PSTN and ISDN in 2025, all WLR products will be removed from sale by September 2023.
And organisations using ISDN, PSTN or xDSL broadband services will need to migrate to new digital alternatives.
But supply chain delays lasting over 12 months mean those hospitals waiting until the last minute could be caught out.
As a consequence, installing the new technologies across their historic hospital buildings could cause major issues.
“Hospital trusts need to act this year if they are to ensure that any technology upgrades needed can be ordered to be delivered and installed in time for 2025,” said Davies.
“They, therefore, need to start comprehensive audits of their estates in order to identify any affected services.”
New services will be almost exclusively fully fibre based and completely digital. This means they are highly resilient and integrate seamlessly with other next-generation services.
Hospitals may not be able to meet safety standards and could be left in a position needing urgent and expensive workarounds to adhere to safety or insurance requirements
Davies said: “Migrating all lines ahead of the 2025 WLR withdrawal is no small feat, but hospital decision-makers cannot wait any longer.
“Understanding the problem is the first step.
“A rapid audit of networks is a must to understand how many connections there are and what type they are being used for.
“Hospital IT teams who leave it to the last minute do not just face widespread disruption to services, but it could result in increased installation costs and delays.
“Whatever existing WLR ISDN/PSTN services you have, there are a number of easy migration paths to ensure the normal running of the organisation is uninterrupted.
“Hospitals must act now to ensure services can continue to function.”