Accenture Blamed for NHS Email Chaos

Following the email chaos which was widely reported by the media this week, National Health Service Digital has laid the blame for problems firmly at the feet of IT outsourcer Accenture.

The email problem even continues to be ongoing in some NHS regions.

Yet IT experts have poured scorn on this notion, suggesting that the issue can ultimately be attributed to a combination of user error and a system config update that was always likely to be problematical.

The internal email system of the NHS had been effectively brought down by a test message that was distributed to the entirety of NHS staff, apparently by a senior IT facilitator at South East Commissioning Support Unit.

A blank message intended for the Croydon Practices distribution list was ultimately sent to 850,000 NHS staff members, with the problem exacerbated by some users clicking ‘reply all’.

An NHS Digital spokesman explained the view of the department.

“A number of email accounts have been operating slowly. This was due to an NHS Mail user setting up an email distribution list which, because of a bug in the supplier’s system, inadvertently emailed everyone in the NHS mailing list.”

Accenture is responsible for providing external email to the NHS, with NHS Digital apparently keen to absolve the individual of the problem, instead suggesting that this company is culpable.

However, an changelog entry, dated 13th November, appears to contradict this suggestion.

Add contacts from other organisations to a distribution list… hmmm

One of the main headaches for sysadmins is the horror of a Reply-all email chain. Indeed, putting the term through Google (other search engines exist) returns this result about how to block email distribution lists from receiving emails sent by list users.

If you go to that link, it’s got a screencap from Exchange Server 2010 in which a simple radio button sets the difference between “only senders inside my organisation” [can receive emails from all users on the list, not just ones sent by the list admin] and “senders inside and outside my organisation.”

With NHS organisations apparently closing ranks, there is still no information on the precise cause of the problem, and this may never be known.

What can be said is that the issue has been a significant headache for NHS staff.

NHS acute trusts in England spend £830 million annually on IT, according to research.

The “Market by numbers” report from EHI Intelligence reveals that total IT spend in the sector is nearing £1 billion per year.

Spending on IT also continues to rise on annual basis, in marked contrast to the squeeze on public sector spending that is expected over the remaining years of the current Parliament.


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