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NHS Digital completes first two major service migrations to the AWS cloud

The digital arm of the National Health Service confirms the system moves are the first of many service migrations it is planning to undertake

NHS Digital has completed the migration of its first two major services to the public cloud, in accordance with the UK government’s wider cloud-first policy.

The services it has chosen to move first are the NHS e-Referral Service (e-RS) and the NHS 111 Directory of Services (DoS). Both are customer-facing, and individually receive large amounts of traffic and usage each year.

The e-RS service, for example, is a national electronic booking service that handles approximately 18 million referrals every year, and enables patients to choose and change the time, place and date of in-clinic and hospital appointments.

NHS 111 DoS is part of a package of tools the health service uses to provide support to patients who may not require an ambulance or emergency care services, but still need to access medical attention within their community. As such, it provides real-time information about available services and clinicians.

Both services have been migrated to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) public cloud, which is becoming an increasingly popular location for NHS Digital to host its services, based on the government’s own Digital Marketplace data.

According to its G-Cloud sales figures, NHS Digital has spent £2.39m on the cloud giant’s services since the cloud framework’s inception in 2012, with bulk of that spend occurring over the past few quarters.

For instance, in the fourth quarter of 2018, the organisation spent £87,000 on AWS, whereas the following quarter saw its spend markedly increase to nearly £680,000 during the first quarter of 2019. It also spent a similar amount (£696,500) on its services in the second quarter of 2019.

However, the organisation has previously outlined its commitment to pursuing a multicloud strategy that will enable it to mix and match services from one or more public cloud providers, including AWS and Microsoft.

In a statement, NHS Digital confirmed the systems were the first of many the health service is in the throes of moving off-premise, as part of its commitment to honouring the UK government’s cloud-first policy.

Neil Bennett, director of services at NHS Digital, said moving the services to the cloud would bring a “wealth of benefits”, both in terms of performance and efficiency.

“Cloud migration is a key element of our sustainability strategy at NHS Digital, because it offers real benefits in terms of energy saving. Large cloud operators like AWS provide significant energy and carbon savings against enterprise and legacy systems”
Ben Tongue, NHS Digital

“Costs are lowered, reducing pressure on the public purse, there is better security and reliability, as well as greater flexibility, performance, scalability and availability, to name a few,” he said.

“This was a tremendous collaborative effort across many different teams here and with external partners, to migrate such large systems with a minimum of disruption to users, in a reasonably short timescale.”

Ben Tongue, sustainability manager at NHS Digital, further revealed that moving to the cloud was an important part of the organisation’s bid to limit the impact its activities have on the environment.

“Cloud migration is a key element of our sustainability strategy at NHS Digital, because it offers real benefits in terms of energy saving. Large cloud operators like AWS provide significant energy and carbon savings against enterprise and legacy systems,” he said.

“We are working with AWS to achieve full transparency on the energy use and carbon impact of the contract, so that we can continue to focus on ensuring that our storage systems are as energy efficient as possible, reducing carbon emissions and minimising environmental impact.”

News of the migration comes more than two years on from NHS Digital issuing its guidance that public cloud is a safe place for health and social care organisations to store patient data

Read more about NHS organisations using cloud

Read more on Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)

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