back to article NHS IT bod sends test email to 850k users – and then responses are sent 'reply all'

A test email sent by accident to 850,000 NHS workers has caused utter chaos after being sent from an apparently incorrectly configured* email distribution list. The sender, whom The Register will identify only as R, sent the blank message with a subject line that simply read "test" to a distribution list called …

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    1. Sam Haine

      This is NHS IT. Nothing will happen at all.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        This is NHS IT. Nothing will happen at all.

        It can't be a coincidence that NHS IT is only one character away from NO SH*T, and that specific character is pronounced as "Oh"..

        1. Ken Hagan Gold badge
          Headmaster

          No, it can't be, because there is a transposition required as well.

  1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

    1. Richard 26

      Re: And now for...

      A typical case, whom we shall refer to as Ms R, although her real name is this:

      Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: And now for...

          Too obscure - I searched on the name and the first couple of pages didn't come up with anything useful or enlightening so I guessed it was some 'in' joke from some film I had never seen (plenty of those) but it's hard to tell if the 'coat' icon is being used as "gets coat" or "scarpers".

          So from me you got a GODOY, 'Grand Old Duke Of York', neither up nor down.

  2. Keith Langmead

    Only 70 or 80 people

    Am I the only one surprised and a little impressed that only 70 or 80 out of 1.2 million people hit reply all!?! With that many recipients I'd have expected far more, unless the techs managed to nip it in the bud quickly enough to block some of the other replies.

    1. Natalie Gritpants

      Re: Only 70 or 80 people

      Thiose 70 are the ones who's reply-all have gone through, the other 10000 are sitting in outboxes waiting for the email server to come back on line.

    2. CustardGannet
      FAIL

      Re: Only 70 or 80 people

      I've currently had 81. But the latest ones were from around 0930 (3.5 hours ago) so there may still be hundreds - if not thousands - more emails from retarH^H^H^H^H^H^H baffled people coming my way.

      What's most ridiculous is that the original didn't even ask recipients to do anything, it just said 'test' in the subject, and a person's email signature.

      The strongest muscles in my body are quickly becoming the ones that I use to roll my eyes.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Only 70 or 80 people

        For those on the inside, my Spiceworks install created the now infamous "899" response to the original unsolicited mail. Server was taken offline as soon as the flood was discovered, we've seen far in excess of 2K responses so far.

        It's been popcorn in this cinema time since about 10h00...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Only 70 or 80 people

          You actually use Spiceworks?? You deserve all you get.

          1. Robert Baker
            Joke

            Re: Only 70 or 80 people

            "You actually use Spiceworks?? You deserve all you get."

            I'll tell you what he wants, what he really really wants... shooting. ;-)

    3. caffeine addict Silver badge

      Re: Only 70 or 80 people

      How many of those replies just read "STOP HITTING REPLY ALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

      Possibly in 50pt lime green comic sans.

  3. gw0udm

    Wasn't clear to begin with

    I saw this starting early this morning but it was already too late to do anything about it.

    I think some of the early repliers could be forgiven, as it was not at all clear from looking at the original test email what had happened. It was from 'R' and simply contained the innocous 'CroydonPractices' in the cc field, and so one might easily have assumed you had be included by mistake. Given the size of the NHS address book this is pretty common, as most of us have namesakes around the NHS somewhere with very similar addressess (eg I have an alter ego who is a radiographer, and I used to get emails about scout group meetings and all sorts of things intended for someone else with the same name).

    It was only after an hour or so that it became clear what had happened, when the number of puzzled replies began to ramp up. I did send a 'please do not reply all to this email' early on so I have probably ultimately not helped, but at that point it was not clear how widely it had gone.

    Really one should not be able to include so many addresses in a mailing list, and no doubt we will see such a measure coming in now. This is one of the perils of such a large internal email system with a single address book which has probably not received sufficient attention up to now.

    1. Blotto Bronze badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Wasn't clear to begin with

      @ gw0udm

      ah.. so your one of those guys that insists on sending the don't reply to all replies to all.

      someone somewhere always has to have the last comment

      1. gw0udm

        Re: Wasn't clear to begin with

        Yeah... and now I'm kicking myself.

        I thought it might just dissuade people but had I known the scale I would have kept it to myself. As above thought it was just a few people to start with.

        Lesson learned!

    2. AMBxx Silver badge

      Re: Wasn't clear to begin with

      Your wrong email problem would be improved if someone had come up with a standard naming policy. My wife receives email intended for some high up in the NHS. Only difference in the address is the '.' between first and last name.

      This stuff was sorted 15 years ago, shouldn't happen any more.

      Few subdomains would help too - everyone, even external users, are on the same nhs.net.

    3. Captain DaFt

      Re: Wasn't clear to begin with

      How nineties.

      These days the correct response is to post the offending email on twitter with the hashtag: #pleasedonotreplyalltothisemail!

      (He said with tongue firmly in cheek)

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So, the UK population has doubled?

    1.2 million is nearer 2% of the population, currently estimated to be around 65 million people.

    1. herman Silver badge

      Re: So, the UK population has doubled?

      You under counted the Travellers, Sirians and Afhanis by about 6.5 million...

      1. Robert Baker
        Alien

        Re: So, the UK population has doubled?

        "You under counted the Travellers, Sirians and Afhanis by about 6.5 million..."

        Sirians? So we're now getting immigrants from a planet of Alpha Canis Majoris as well? :-)

  5. Rogue Jedi

    since when is 1.2 million people 1% of the UK population?

    The UK population is about 67 million, so the 1.2 million figure is 1.7% and therefore much closer to 2% than 1%

    unless of course about 43 million people have entered the UK in the last few months

    1. AMBxx Silver badge
      Joke

      43 million people have entered the UK in the last few months

      It was refreshing having a discussion forum that didn't mention Brexit, then you had to bring it up...

    2. nematoad Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: since when is 1.2 million people 1% of the UK population?

      "...unless of course about 43 million people have entered the UK in the last few months..."

      Shh, don't tell the Brexiteers. They might have a breakdown and do something silly.

      Wait, what am I saying?

    3. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: since when is 1.2 million people 1% of the UK population?

      That will be tomorrows Daily Mail Headline

      43million Immigrants swamp the UK since BREXIT.

      All an EU Attempt to stop BREXIT

      Invoke Article 50 NOW

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not all the numpties work with 'R'

    Our smart IT department has decided that this is a phishing exercise designed to pillage our contact lists and put a big warning on the Trust intranet front page. Didn't think so myself after looking through the source of the original message: Hanlon's Razor applies yet again.

    Anonymous for obvious reasons.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Predictable?

    A long time ago, the place I was working had a 3 day mail outage. I doubt any trust would have one that long nowadays. But a national system? This could be longer.

    The whole thread will be made up of "important" people complaining that they are getting confusing emails and want it to stop. Then other important people complain about that one. Return to start...

    This could be a good thing as it might help prevent the centralisation that the NHS.net will become.

    1. Martin an gof Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: Predictable?

      A long time ago, the place I was working had a 3 day mail outage

      Also a long time ago, when widespread corporate email was still a "new thing" and not everyone in the company had access to a computer, let alone an email address, the mail systems of the group I worked for were connected using 28k8bps dial-up modems, which dialled on demand - direct to the appropriate receiving modem (none of this send-it-via-the-internet stuff).

      Somebody decided to send an everyone-on-the-system email, announcing a new launch (or maybe it was just a logo change) and had scanned, in 32bit colour, a black-and-white logo which came to a total of around 10MBytes.

      Bearing in mind that the "mail server" was a re-purposed 286 with 512kB memory and a 40MB hard drive, and that in those days a typical desktop computer was a 386 with 2MB or a 486 with 4MB and that one poor secretary had (IIRC) a 286 with 1MB and a 20MB HDD (yes, just about enough room for WfW3.11 and a basic Office installation), there were some people who actually got control of their computers back by lunchtime, but others had to wait until the next day.

      I had to run around the building warning people to delete that message and not to open it; the amount of page-file thrashing that ensued tied the computers up for another hour... well for a long time, anyway. Not that long waits were uncommon with MS Mail.

      I don't think there were any serious effects on that particular manager, but a later send-to-all email, which was a simple 2kB text email containing a slightly "off" joke did result in disciplinary action I believe, and an edict that nobody should ever send-to-all again.

      M.

  8. AMBxx Silver badge
    FAIL

    Exchange not Outlook

    One's an email server, the other an email client - this stuff isn't difficult.

    BTW, default reply option on Outlook Web Mail is Reply All. No idea if you can change it, but I don't have 1 million users!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Exchange not Outlook

      I am not as familiar with other OWAs but the NHS one is currently offering me 4 options with nothing set to default.

      Delete - Reply - Reply All - Forward

      I suspect someone is looking very hard at that "Reply All" option and considering what can be done about it.

      In fact, as I read left to right, I see the Reply option before the fateful Reply All. People who choose it are not picking the first option. They are picking one that is more strident.

  9. Tatsky
    Joke

    Speak to Hillary

    She can setup email apparently, and she is looking for work.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Speak to Hillary

      Yawn. Leave your political jokes at the door please.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Speak to Hillary

        Yawn. Trump fans thumbing me down. :)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Speak to Hillary

          See? :)

        2. find users who cut cat tail
          Facepalm

          Re: Speak to Hillary

          > Trump fans thumbing me down.

          Funny how someone seeing everything through partisan glasses (because everyone liking the joke must obviously be a Trump supporter, right?) asks others to `leave your political jokes at the door please'.

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Speak to Hillary

            Even funnier that none of those downvotes bothered to deny it.

            I mean, you just Teflonned me - you didn't deny it either!

            But for the record, there has been an influx of negative AC posters since the US election, who I've had a few run ins with.

            I just think a significant part of this site's newer membership is the emboldened, negative bots / trolls who sling out negativity without ever actually posting.

            I can't prove or disprove that myself; I genuinely can't think of any other reasons I would get downvotes.

            1. AMBxx Silver badge

              Re: Speak to Hillary

              The whole world doesn't revolve around your grief for Hilary. Let's face it, any half-decent Democrat or Republican could have beaten Trump or Clinton by a huge margin. Jsut shows how poor they both are.

      2. Nick Ryan Silver badge

        Re: Speak to Hillary

        You sir, seem to have mistaken this website for some other site.

        Here we lambast pretty much everyone, although usually from the technical point of view ("where's the IT angle") but not always as we don't want to restrict ourselves too much. Therefore we have articles pointing out holes (and making fun of) both Trump's useless website and email configuration and Clinton's personal email server.

  10. Custard Fridge
    Pint

    "Although one can never underestimate a User."

    Amen to that

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    NHS email

    I have years of NHS experience though not there at the moment.

    I have vivid memories of our service desk being asked to create such dist lists.

    There were arguments in the NHS over who was allowed to dictate the members. There were arguments about IT doing it.

    I was management, I gave one of our lesser skilled deskers brief training on why dist lists containing dist lists that pointed at the original dist list.

    I think common sense was and remains in short supply. It shouldn't surprise anyone that my overriding experience of the NHS was shock at lack of knowledge.

  12. TRT Silver badge

    It's a good job that they hit return and send too soon...

    I have a copy of the full email here, it reads:

    Subject: Testicle removal surgery.

    Body: Dear sir / madam,

    I'm pleased to inform you that the surgery to remove your left testicle [delete as appropriate] has been scheduled for 23rd December 2016 at 1pm. Please indicate by reply that this date is suitable for you. You must arrive at Southampton General [delete as appropriate] at least 4 hours before the appointed time, and you are reminded not to eat [delete as appropriate] in the 12 hours preceding the appointment and not to drink [delete as appropriate] for four (4) hours preceding the appointment.

    Yours,

    Mr Ivor Nicktoor Bolokov, Senior Surgical Consultant.

  13. Dave 15

    reply all should

    Reply all should as a side effect format your hard drive if there are more than 30 people on the chain (perhaps less, I don't mind)

    1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: reply all should

      Fewer.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: reply all should

        You think he could care fewer?

  14. Bloodbeastterror

    It's really not rocket science

    As an ex-IT professional I worked on the principle that there are no stupid users, only poor computer systems that don't protect users from their own stupidity. Yes, I was an idealist as well as a deep-rooted cynic.

    I saw several of these email firestorms during my career at a major US institution, and on every occasion I looked at the original, thought "Dope!", just deleted it, and then sat back waiting for my imbecile coworkers to start with the "Please remove me".

    Apparently I was alone in just taking the simple course of deletion. Duh...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's really not rocket science

      Yeah, I've seen.. Too many.. Examples of this.

      Zen question: if a reply all goes out and nobody replies, does it even matter?

      (providing it isn't doing something stupid like going to a nestled dist lost which goes back to the original ad infinitum)

    2. Alvar
      Big Brother

      Re: It's really not rocket science

      I always wonder whether these are deliberate exercises, and those who reply are highlighting themselves as prime candidates for the next round of redundancies.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It's really not rocket science

        "[...] and those who reply are highlighting themselves as prime candidates for the next round of redundancies."

        Shirley it is the first step in the middle management selection process.

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