NHS Moves To Microsoft Exchange

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The world’s biggest email migration went all right. But what about the stalled £12.7 billion project for patient records?

The UK’s National Health Service has migrated its staff email system, NHSmail, to Microsoft Exchange, as part of a move towards using off-the-shelf software instead of costly and ineffective bespoke solutions.

With more than 350,000 NHS staff using the system in England and Scotland, the move is the largest ever migration to Exchange, according to Cable & Wireless, who supplied the original NHSmail service. The move started in January and was complete in twelve weeks – and the new NHSmail will be extended, with half a million users by 2011.

“The improvements to NHSmail means that NHS staff have access to a vastly improved communications tool,” said Will Moss, programme head for NHSmail. The makeover, which moves it to Exchange 2007, will mean faster communication and better patient care, he promised. It includes shared calendars and a national directory, as well as integrated SMS text messages, which the NHS uses to send appointment reminders to patients. It also has to be secure, as the NHS has licensed NHSmail to carry patient data.

The move is a welcome piece of good news for the NHS, whose IT is more usually in the news for delays and cost over-runs, such as the mired £12.7 billion National Programme for IT (NPfIT), in which BT, CSC and iSoft were contracted to provide a new records system for the NHS’ 50 million patients.
With costs spiralling and NPfIT running four years late, the suppliers have been set a deadline of November to deliver a working system, according to a report in the Financial Times.

Meanwhile, hospitals in the South of England will be allowed to buy “off-the-shelf” software systems from a wider group of suppliers, to make up for the failings of the project – which caused Fujitsu to withdraw from a £1 billion part of the project.

“We now want to open up the healthcare IT market to new suppliers and new technological developments, to inject more pace into this programme,” Christine Connelly, the Department of Health’s chief information officer said in a story at The Times. “If we don’t see significant progress by the end of November 2009, then we will move to a new plan.”

The NHSmail service, supplied by Cable & Wireless, is funded centrally by NHS Connecting for Health, and includes partners such as pharmacists, dentists, and optometrists, as well as GPs. The cost of the migration was not announced.

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