Concerns about the future direction of the NHS’s private email service have ben raised after it was used for the first time for a corporate broadcast by the Department of Health on future policy plans.
The message from health minister Lord Darzi on his proposed reforms of the NHS was sent out to all 180,000 active users of NHSmail at the end of October. This blanket broadcast went out to all NHSmail users in NHS Scotland, who are not covered by the DH and its proposed reforms.
In a statement to E-Health Insider, Lord Darzi said: "I am keen to give as many of my NHS colleagues as possible the chance to contribute to the Our NHS, Our Future review. The review provides an unprecedented opportunity for all staff to engage in shaping the future of the NHS, and open and transparent communication through a range of channels, including email, is key to enabling them to provide input."
Though one email does not represent a clogged up inbox health service IT experts have expressed concern that the move marks the DH beginning to use the NHSmail service to broadcast policy messages, a change from the original agreement on the use of the service.
In the original version of NHSmail provided by EDS it was agreed with the medical professions that NHSmail would not be used for government or DH messages.
NHSmail was designed for professional use and is the only email service approved for clinical messages, but this value could be eroded if it becomes used for mass ‘spam’ style corporate emails sent out on an ‘opt out’ basis. EHI’s production editor, Dave Carter, said that rather than spam the broadcast was closer ‘bacn’, email that “you might want but not right now”.
Dr Grant Ingrams, Deputy Chair Joint GP IT Committe, told E-Health Insider: “It does concern me it will undermine the service and bring it into disrepute, will risk clinicians losing faith in service and will have”
Dr Ingrams said he personally had recieved over a dozen complaints about the Lord Darzi email broadcast, and was concerned that if NHSmail became seen as a corporate communications vehicle clinicins might desert it for alternative email services not approved for clinical communications. “I think the joint GP ITC should consider this as a matter of urgency”.
He quoted one disgruntled user who commented: “The NHS spends a fortune on killing spam from outside, only to seem to want to now introduce our own internal spam.”
The DH declined to awnser questions about whether there had ben a change in policy in the use of NHSmail for official broadcasts, though the fact that Lord Darzi’s email included an unsubscribe link suggests it plans further mass email broadcasts
In a statement to EHI the DH said: "We know that input from patient, public and staff leads to a better NHS: “By promoting open and transparent communication through tools including NHSmail we aim to give as many people as possible the opportunity to contribute.”
"This unprecedented review provides an opportunity to shape the NHS of the future and create a healthcare system that is universally world class. A core part of this is communicating information that is relevant to the work of all NHS staff."