Contact, the new NHS e-mail service supplied by Cable and Wireless, is down for maintenance after problems at its launch on Friday, which some reports say left staff without access to their mailboxes.

The Contact service has been temporarily replaced with the previous NHSmail system, as supplied by EDS. According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, the servers failed to initialise, leaving the system unusable. However, the National Programme for IT have denied that any sort of crash occured, and have insisted that nobody suffered any interruption to e-mail service.

A statement released by the National Programme for IT explained: "During the course of migration from NHSmail to the new Contact service a problem was encountered that could potentially have prevented delivery of the new service to some users. Therefore, as continuity of service is paramount the National Programme is continuing with the existing NHSmail service whilst it is resolving this migration issue.

“No data has been lost and all NHSmail accounts will continue to work as normal and there will be no need to change password or log in details. NHSmail will continue to provide full helpdesk facilities to users."

A spokesperson for NPfIT blamed issues with the speed of “data migration" for the fact that Contact was taken offline.  “The problem meant that it was unlikely the migration could be completed in the allocated time and there might therefore be the potential for lost data. As continuity of service is paramount, the action was taken to stop the migration and roll back to the EDS service in a planned way. Work is now underway to identify why there was a problem with the speed of migration, resolve the problem and then reschedule the migration."

“The migration will be rescheduled shortly and users of the service are being kept fully informed of progress."

The original contract value of Contact was £29.5m, rising to £50-90m when a planned number of users sign up for the system. C&W told E-Health Insider that they were looking into the situation.

According to server reports received in the E-Health Insider inbox, a small number of addresses pointed to addresses had still been experiencing mail delivery delays on Monday afternoon. On Friday, a handful of emails to addresses were bouncing due to over-congestion. However, these difficulties appear to have been resolved.

Last week, Gordon Hextall, chief operations officer at NPfIT, announced to the Clinical Information Systems and Electronic Records and e-Health 2004 conference in London that the Contact email and directory service was ready and NHSmail was due to be replaced the following Friday. There is currently no information as to when Contact will be working again.

The crash is the latest development in the NHS e-mail service saga. The NHSIA originally awarded a £62m contract to EDS in September 2002, but the contract was terminated in March 2004 after only 25,074 NHS staff (2.3% of total) signed up to use NHSmail in the first six months of its life. EDS was given £9m in compensation for the termination.

The NPfIT had promised at the time that the handover to C&W from EDS would be smooth: “Arrangements for continuity of service and handing over the service to Cable & Wireless have been agreed so there will be no interruption of service to the NHS."