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Connections to core NHS services

This page addresses some of the questions we're often asked about connections to core NHS services.

Regulating access to data

Registration Authorities

Organisations that deliver NHS care and need to access patient information within NHS systems and other national services must set up Registration Authorities to manage this process. The roles and responsibilities of Registration Authorities are defined by NHS policy. Their key tasks are to:

  • verify the identity of all healthcare staff needing access to sensitive data
  • establish and provide the level access needed

Access information is on a database, which is interrogated every time a user logs on, and the appropriate access is granted. Users have no way of changing their level of access.


Smartcards are similar to a chip and PIN credit or debit card, but are more secure. Smartcards are required to access and use IT systems and services essential to the provision of patient care.

Getting a Smartcard

Please contact your registration authority or email

Health and Social Care Network

The Health and Social Care Network (HSCN) is the new data network for health and care organisations which replaced N3. It provides the underlying network arrangements to help integrate and transform health and social care services by enabling them to access and share information more reliably, flexibly and efficiently.

From 31 March 2017, N3 network connectivity and existing contract arrangements moved onto the Transition Network. Organisations' N3 connectivity will continue to be supported through the Transition Network and full HSCN services are now available from a number of HSCN compliant suppliers. To exit Transition Network services and migrate to the HSCN, organisations' will need to start the procurement of new HSCN network services.

Health and care providers will be able to buy network connectivity from multiple suppliers in a competitive market place.

The HSCN Connection Agreement

The Connection Agreement replaced the N3 Information Governance Statement of Compliance (IGSoC). In doing this, the arrangements for being able to use HSCN have been separated from those relating to accessing data or systems available on HSCN.

Every organisation that wishes to use HSCN must complete a Connection Agreement. By 'use HSCN', we mean 'send or receive data across HSCN'. Signing this agreement will mean that your organisation is ready to be connected to the HSCN once you've identified an HSCN supplier.

The HSCN Connection Agreement is organisation-centric: each organisation must sign just one Connection Agreement no matter how many locations or HSCN connections they have or use.

See a copy of the HSCN Connection Agreement. Please note this downloadable copy is for information purposes only. To sign the HSCN Connection Agreement for your organisation please see the Connecting to HSCN page.

Information governance and data security

The Information Governance Toolkit (IGT) has been replaced by the Data Security and Protection Toolkit (DSPT).

It isn't necessary to complete a DSPT assessment in order to gain access to HSCN. However, all organisations that have or require access to NHS patient data and systems must use this toolkit to provide assurance that they are practising good data security and that personal information is handled correctly.

This means that having an HSCN connection does not automatically grant your organisation access to the systems and services available on it. A DSPT assessment is still required to access NHS Digital’s national applications, such as the NHS e-Referral Service (ERS), Personal Demographics Service (PDS) and Secondary Uses Service (SUS). Other suppliers may have alternative prerequisites for access to their systems.

More information about the systems and services provided by NHS Digital can be found on the NHS Digital systems and services page.

Organisation Data Service

The Organisation Data Service (ODS) is provided by NHS Digital. It's responsible for the publication of all organisation and practitioner codes, and national policy and standards regarding the majority of organisation codes, and encompasses the functionality and services previously provided by the National Administrative Codes Service (NACS).

These code standards form part of the NHS data standards. NHS Digital is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the ODS and its overall development.

Why ODS codes are needed

It's vital to the provision of effective healthcare that the various locations involved in a patient's treatment can communicate quickly and efficiently.

ODS codes facilitate this process by providing unique identification codes for organisational entities of interest to the NHS, including:

  • NHS trusts
  • clinical commissioning groups (CCGs)
  • hospitals
  • GP practices

The codes are distributed to the wider NHS and uploaded to IT systems, providing a set of organisational data and organisation types, names and addresses that are consistent across the board.

This allows those IT systems to identify precise locations reliably, quickly and easily. This requirement for systems to ensure that only valid data is exported is a normal function of any IT system and is essential for the correct exchange of information.

You can search for existing ODS codes using the ODS Portal (a Transition Network or HSCN connection is required) or register for an ODS code if you don't already have one.

Using ODS codes

You will need to use your ODS code to connect to HSCN apply for and use national applications such as, the NHS e-Referral Service and NHSMail. You will also need it for submitting national reports on care and activity provided, such as referral to treatment (RTT) data.

Your commissioning organisations are also likely to request using the code in all correspondence with them, as it's your organisation's unique identifier in the NHS.

Types of ODS code 

The type of code needed depends on the organisation and the services they will provide and use.

Independent providers will be allocated either an:

  • Independent Provider Code (IP code)
  • Independent Sector Healthcare Provider code (ISHP code)

Providers needing to use national infrastructure services, such as the NHS e-Referral Service, would need an ISHP code. Providers not using national infrastructure would be allocated an IP code.

The Exeter Helpdesk 

The Exeter Helpdesk is the service desk that record and log customer enquiries for the ODS team. Contact them at


NHSmail is the secure email, directory and calendar service available to health and social care staff in England. It's available to use without charge for sharing information securely by anyone involved in and supporting the business of health and social care.

To find out how your organisation could register for NHSmail, visit our Support Site. From here you can navigate to the third dropdown section dedicated to Commissioned/Independent Organisations for more information. Existing customers can log in via the NHSmail portal.

Last edited: 19 April 2021 2:10 pm