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‘Test Messages’ Sent To 1.2m Staff Downs NHSmail Email System

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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A test message mistakenly sent to the entire NHS restricted access to the email system

A Monday morning test message sent to all 1.2 million NHS staff signed up for the NHSmail email system led to millions of further erroneous messages and restricted access to the tool, according to reports and statements by staff on social media.

The message was “inadvertently” sent by an IT contractor at Croydon NHS to a list encompassing all those signed up for NHSmail, and when hundreds of users replied to the list asking to be taken off it, their messages, too, flooded out to the entire organisation, NHS Digital confirmed.

Emails ‘crash’ system

email overload spam ©TijanaM / shutterstock.comAt one point an NHS data specialist estimated at least 186 million needless messages had been sent, including the original message and replies, while others reported they could not log onto the system.

“1.2 million people have received approx 151 emails in error this morning. That’s 186 million needless emails so far today,” Graham Hyde wrote in a Twitter post.

Another Twitter user labelled the issue “Reply Allpocalypse”.

NHS Digital said staff had experienced “short delays” due to the issue and estimated 840,000 accounts were affected.

“A number of email accounts have been operating slower than normal due to an NHSmail user setting up an email distribution list which inadvertently included everyone on the NHSmail system,” NHS Digital stated. “As soon as we became aware of the issue, we deleted the distribution list so that no one else could respond to it. We anticipate that the issue will be rectified very soon.”

‘High severity’

NHS Digital was obliged to dictate its statement over the telephone or distribute it by text message due to the problem.

A message sent to NHSmail users described the issue as a “high severity service incident”, according to a report by The Guardian.

“The impact of this issue has meant that some users are unable to access OWA (Outlook Web Access) due to the volume of emails being circulated,” the email said. “The distribution list has been removed and associated emails are being traced and cleared. In the meantime, users will experience slow performance with OWA and email delivery delays from internal and external sources to nhs.net addresses.”

NHSmail was introduced in May and is approved by the Department of Health for sharing sensitive information.

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