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NHS email outage caused by ‘internal software issues’

NHSmail system shutdown, which saw staff locked out of their accounts, blamed on “software issues” in supplier Accenture’s internal infrastructure

The NHS email system crashed last weekend, locking staff out of their accounts as NHS Digital and its supplier, Accenture, scrambled to fix the issue.

The NHSmail system, which is run by Accenture, suffered a national outage, which meant most staff were unable to access their email accounts across all platforms.

NHS Digital, which provided regular updates to NHS staff via social media and on its website, said the crash was “caused by a software issue in the supplier’s internal infrastructure”.  

In the afternoon of 1 December, NHS chief clinical information officer Simon Eccles announced on Twitter: “NHSmail is completely down on all platforms. This is exceptionally unusual. The team and supplier are investigating.”

The outage began in the morning on 1 December, and by 5pm, access had been restored for some users. NHS Digital said Accenture had run an “automatic fix”, and by 10.30pm, “all users”, including those that had been locked out “as a result of multiple login attempts”, had seen their access restored.  

NHSmail is used across the NHS as its secure email service, and is seen as safe enough to send patient-identifiable data.

Accenture won the contract for the upgraded email service in 2015, and has been running it since 2016. The NHS’s previous contract with Cable & Wireless (C&W) was due to expire in July 2013 but was extended with Vodafone, which acquired C&W in 2012. 

NHS Digital recently completed a project to integrate NHSmail with Microsoft Office 365. The integration relies on a mix of US and European Office 365 datacentres to host its deployment, while the NHSmail Exchange and Skype for Business services that the health service already uses will continue to be hosted in its own datacentres in England. 

NHS Digital hopes that integrating the two systems will allow NHSmail users to securely share patient information in Office 365 with each other, as well as with third-party organisations commissioned to deliver NHS services.

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