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44% hospital trusts in England and Wales have no strategy for PSTN withdrawal

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request by Maintel, the 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 Wholesale Line Rental (WLR) withdrawal of Public Switch Telephone Network (PSTN) and Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) services.

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 large number of PSTN/ISDN lines installed, up to 10,315 in total.

Maintel states, 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.”

While BT will switch off the PSTN and ISDN in 2025, all WLR products will be removed from sale by September 2023. Organisations using ISDN, PSTN, or xDSL broadband services will need to migrate to new digital alternatives.

Supply chain delays lasting over 12 months mean those hospitals that try to wait until the last minute could be caught out. Consequently, 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. They, therefore, need to start comprehensive audits of their estates 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.

Dan added, “migrating all lines ahead of the 2025 WLR withdrawal is no small feat. 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 several easy migration paths to ensure the normal running of the organisation is uninterrupted. Hospitals must act now to ensure services can continue to function.”

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