A national email service designed to meet the needs of the NHS is now due to be launched this summer, the NHS Information Authority (NHSIA) announced at HC2002.

Development of a national email system for the NHS is linked to the NHSIA’s work to provide a national directory service, holding contact details for one million plus NHS health workers and the organisations they work for.

The NHSIA says the combined email and directory service will be one of the largest corporate email and directory services in the world.

The contract, originally due to be signed last Friday, is now scheduled to be completed just after Easter.

Carrie Armitage, Head of Access to Information, said: "This will give all NHS staff a personal mailbox with direct access to email form the workplace or from other locations, including home."

She added: "This is part of the NHSIA’s work to develop an efficient infrastructure for the NHS and it meets the NHS Plan target to give all NHS staff access to email by March next year."

The national web-based email service, which will run across the NHS network NHSnet and the Internet, via a secure connection, will also give NHS staff a host of desktop services such as an online calendar, message boards, polls, chat forums, group storage, search engines and shared bookmarks.

"National email will make collaborative working much easier as users will be able to create virtual communities across organisations and support initiatives such as cancer networks and national service frameworks," said Armitage.

The combination of directory and national email should make it possible for NHS staff to have an email address ‘for life’. This should enable NHS staff, such as junior doctors, who frequently change roles, move departments or organisations to retain the same email address wherever they move.

The national email system will be provided as a managed service, with local organisations able to retain local servers as part of the migration programme. Several hundred thousand NHS staff are expected to make use of the service in the first year alone.

It is expected that the largest uptake of the new service will initially come from community-based users, junior doctors or small GP practices that do not have email or spend a disproportionate amount on email servers.

BT Syntegra supplies the current NHS Managed Message Handling Service, with a contract due to expire in 2005. It is expected that all sites will move to the new national email messaging supplier by 2004.

The NHSIA also announced that a new virus scanning service is due to go live on the NHS network, NHSnet, at the end of May.

David Harley, the NHSIA’s virus expert, said: "In common with many large organisations, in both the commercial and public sectors, the NHS has been hit recently by a large number of email viruses and worms like HomePage and Goner.

The email virus scanning service, which will include a central virus and worm filter, will be supplied by Syntegra in partnership with Brightnmail, using Symantec’s anti-virus scanning software.