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back to article Majority of NHSmail accounts are inactive

The secure email and directory system for England and Scotland's health services has 153,000 active accounts, less than half the 337,000 registered users The number of active users is a small fraction of the NHS employees within the two nations, which exceeds 1m. In April 2006, then director general of NHS Connecting for Health …

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Anonymous Coward

not surprised

My Dad works in the NHS and has told me that the system is so awkward to actually get to, and use, that he can't be bothered with it.

Also, there is generally only one pc free that isn't busy running a machine and can actually be used to write reports, check mail etc.

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News to me !!!!

Last time I checked, about 5 minutes ago we were still on the crappy Cable & Wireless platform !

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I signed up

I signed up and actually used it once or twice. I stopped working for the NHS over 3 years ago, but I expect the account is still useable, if only I could remember the login details!

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re:News to me !!!!

Yep, the migration to Exchange 2007 isn't until later in in the year

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Exchange 2007

The 'Technology Refresh' to Exchange 2007 is due this year (i.e. completed before the next Ice Age. Maybe.)

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nhs.net

given that the NHS has one of the few uk SLDs why was it necessary to spend tax-payer's money on nhs.net?

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Anonymous Coward

NHS net

is a better solution than what we are currently trying to implement. That's all I have to say.

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IT Angle

It never ceases to amaze me...

..at how many times government gets talked into re-inventing the wheel at huge public purse expense and ends up deploying an unfamiliar, ill-conceived poor fudge of a solution instead of adopting industry standard platforms that users are used to and that can easily be made a secure as anyone could possibly demand?!

Could it have something to do with governments almost complete ignorance of strategic IT issues, or is it just that their industry 'partners' are just so much smarter than them? .....

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Actually ......

NHS net was a very clever idea, it's a secure encrypted email system that allows transfer of sensitive data within the NHS using a secure network.

They just chose a bad user interface :(

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Flame

email? They struggle with paper...

I am distressingly confident that the local hospital has failed to pass on routine information about myself and other family members to other hospitals and GPs. They use ordinary post, and stuff goes missing in transit. But nobody admits anything.

As I'm sure we all know, there are mechanisms to get more certain delivery out of carrier pigeons.

Email, especially a secure NHS network, has the potential to solve many of the problems. But, so far, I'm not sure that the people involved are thinking in the right box. My local GPs have one address for the whole practice. Somebody has to look at the mail and sort it out for the different departments and different people.

On the other hand, since it's unusual to see the same Doctor twice--I've been going to outpatient clinics for decades--it might be that individual email addresses are just as bad. A CC to Doctor and Clinic might work, but will the people sending email get that right?

I could rant, at length. I don't think it matters whether the data is on paper or on email; I think the NHS needs a major arse-kicking on reliable internal communication.

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Never Understood...

...why migrating to the new system wasn't made compulsory. A phased migration should have completed by now and any issues would have been resolved. So much money spent on the two systems (even though the first was good too) and still the old ones are run at great cost as well as the new one.

Local and "personal" agendas and politics have been allowed to dictate too much in this case ! This is truly what has happened. Tax payers money !!

People often don't like to change, just for the hell of it. If this was going to be the case, ie local authorities were not going to be migrated and they didn't show enthusiasm to migrate then who decided to go ahead with it in spite of this ? TWICE ! I say this because there was nothing so wrong with the first system to warrant its scrapping !

After the first EDS system ran for a while the lack of interest was clear. That should have been addressed before all that time and money was spent once again !

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I use it - it's pretty good

I work for the NHS and I use my nhs.net account so I can work across multiple sites and still have access to secure email.

The interface is pretty good and the IMAP functionality is great for when I'm working at my desk.

Personally I think it's one of the better parts of the National Programme for IT.

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IT Angle

Are these actually unused?

There has been a lot of Gerrymandering with the PCTs and mergers between different departments under the continued remastering of the whole Health Service. Everyone getting their old job as their new job, but working for a different part of the business and getting a new email address to boot. This means that millions of emails have to be received at the new address that were sent to the old address for continuity of support and communication. Why bother using the new fangled address when all your email is available in the old mailbox and your stationary and cards (not to mention the building you work in and the posters on the wall there) still have the old details on?

And what mother-of-satan did the deal with MS that led to the problem with this system being the death-knell for email that is the Outlook 2GB PST bug? Try reading this week's email crop when reams of useless jibber-jabber is archived from over 10 years ago. People stay in the NHS for life (if they like working for them) and some of those consultations and mails could save your arse one of these days, you don't want to delete them. Try asking IT to dump them onto a DVD to take home ... Can't do that, this could be sensitive customer data. I'll keep it at work then? No, I don't have an office, I hotdesk when I need a computer to work at. Give me NHS login over VPN from home so that I don't have to spend an hour looking for a desk to work at? Sorry, we can't do that until our IT contract is signed for the time it would take to install that ability in your area.

NHS IT is wank. There is no other way to say it.

Half the people using this system are people-people and have no clue what the inter-tubes do, the other half are too busy navigating the FUBAR mess just to do their jobs. Who has the time to explain the question "what do you need from IT" before interpreting their answer?

Committees decide who to contract to without taking into account the needs of their staff, based on advice from the bean counters.

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Joke

continuation from Gordon Davies

Good Point, well made... The NHS, after the inordinate success it had last year with data security, have been asked by the government to completely redesign the wheel. In the old days wheels all looked the same, you know - round - and it is hoped that a radical new approach can be developed and hopefully adopted across the entire country. To this end, the NHS is now investigating the possibility of using triangular wheels on all non-essential transport, and square ones for ambulances, fire-engines and police cars.

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Anonymous Coward

Guilty by association

As part of the original EDS team promoting NHS Email (& Directory Services) I am not surprised by the lack of take up.

It was clear early on that there was significant resistance within the NHS Trusts (usually at IT Manager/Director Level), they had their own systems and didn't want to relinquish any control over their users. In such an organisation without management buy-in it was diificult to promote the service. Some trusts even blocked the .nhs.net domain at their firewalls.

The secure aspect of the service was overlooked by many trusts ... especially those who turned a blind eye to transfer of patient data via unsecure means (eg. Yahoo Mail).

A Outlook Web Access service was on offer but not promoted as it was significantly more expensive than the Sun WebMail solution (pre MS agreement). Understandably Exchange users did not want to lose any functionality.

NHS Email was consequently only useful to NHS Staff who were mobile (between trusts),those without an existing email account and those wishing to use an approved secure service.

Some trusts saw the benefits and migrated users to the new service ... but these were few and far between.

There were many reasons why the NHS Email & Directory Servces contact was taken away from EDS (Including the duplication of Directory Services and lack of alignment between NHSIA and the newly formed NPfIT).

Most of the problems associated with NHS Email where not specific to EDS and therefore it comes as no surprise that a different service provider encounters a similar set of problems resulting in poor take up.

(Posted anonymously due to my continuing proximity to one or more of the organisations involved.)

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Useless

I have an account and never use it. I did briefly but the inteface is hopeless - the default is slow and web based - not intuitative at all.

Don't forget most NHS staff were born before computers were commonplace and have no intrinsic computer skills at all. Training is non existent - it is called "trickle down training" - those who can use it teach others in their well motivated and generous free time.

If there is a login problem it permanently shuts you out after three errors - you then have to know who to telephone to ask someone else to reinstate your account. (Nothing on screen as a prompt). If you don't use the account for three months it shuts you out permanently anyway.

Finally because the levels of skill of the users is so low anything that exists is forwarded to everyone who might be remotely involved so anyone who does try to use the service drowns in floods of irrelevant information.

- Needs a change in attitude of the people who run it - a software change and real investment in training on an ongoing basis.

Nick.

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Black Helicopters

Did anyone ask what was needed?

I'm a GP.

NHSMail may be ideal for passing encrypted patient information - but the designers would appear to lack any understanding of the way the NHS works - and the consequent email needs.

When I refer a patient, I refer to a team led by a consultant in the hospital of my patient's choice: I do not expect thet, if I am referring to the spinal surgeon at the local hospital, that patient will end with a referral to somewhere near Land's End because the Consultant has changed jobs - and if I was asking for follow-up information, it is to the leader of the team in the hospital he/she wanted to go to.

Equally, should inquiries about my patients in the surgery have to wait until I return from leave? and what happens if I drop dead - and NHSMail doesn't notice!

The system is clunky to use. It may be encrypted - and no doubt we will establish systems to get round the difficulties - but until there is a good clinical reason for using it rather than SMTP email, I'll go on just emptying the junk mail at irregular intervals when nothing better to do!

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Anonymous Coward

Re:Did anyone ask what was needed

I think that is what generic clinical mailboxes are for?

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Stop

@GP

"what happens if I drop dead - and NHSMail doesn't notice!"

You're kidding right?

I'm pretty certain most mail systems would suffer from this problem.

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