Connecting for Health’s head of the NHSmail programme, Will Moss has told E-Health Insider that the DH agency will decide this month on final timing of announcing its move Microsoft Exchange, with the switch to follow soon after.

CfH hopes the planned move to Exchange will re-invigorate the moribund adoption rate of NHSmail, which to date has 153,000 active users. Two years ago EHI reported the number stood at 80,000 active users.

Six years have now passed since the NHS Information Authority awarded a £90m contract with Electronic Data Systems for a web-based NHSmail email service, a deal which in 2004 CfH handed to Cable and Wireless due to low levels of adoption.

Moss told EHI that once the switch to Exchange has occurred CfH will embark on a major marketing campaign to drive up awareness and use of the service, and the benefits the move will provide to users.

“We will be going to our programme board, national user group and liaising with our existing user base during this month, and we hope to be able to formally announce the transition towards the end of the month,” Moss told EHI.

A spokesperson said the decision to move to Exchange had been made, adding, “the only decision we have yet to take is when we tell users when the ‘go live’ date will be.”

NHSmail is provided by Cable and Wireless. In July 2007 the company announced it would switch to Microsoft Exchange 2007, moving from its current Mirapoint email platform

The NHSmail email and directory system for England and Scotland’s health services is being actively used by just over 153,000 people, with 337,000 registered users on the service. The discrepancy is caused by the many staff who have accounts but don’t use them or have moved jobs.

The latest figures on active users were given by health minister Ben Bradshaw in a parliamentary written answer on 19 March showing that as of 29 February, the number of active accounts used in the NHS stood at 153,073.

Though these figures have continued to rise since 31 December 2004, the total is still significantly less than the amount of registered users of the service, and is only 12% of the NHS’s 1.3m workforce.

Moss told EHI that the difference between active users and registered users was due to a postponement of advertising of the service, whilst preparations for the switch to Microsoft Exchange were underway.

“The difference between the two figures is due to a number of users being people who registered for the service and have since left the NHS. These staff members are not yet processed as leavers, but the bulk of them have left the NHS altogether or have gone to organisations who are not yet using NHSmail.

“The move to Microsoft Exchange meant we didn’t want to do a big marketing take-up scheme for the system to avoid organisations or users having to switch platforms twice in a few months. Once Exchange is in place and is stable and robust, we will re-engage a marketing process and expect to increase user figures,” he said.

Since agreeing a deal with Microsoft, the Exchange system has been under an intensive testing process. Towards the end of last year, Cable and Wireless, CfH and Microsoft met at Microsoft UK’s headquarters in Reading to modify and test the system, and it has since been tested internally to ensure it meets the standards of the various different systems and mail protocols used in the NHS.

Cable & Wireless’ head of frameworks, Ian Fowler, told EHI: “We believe we have got the best system possible for the NHS in our preparation work to date. The programme board will now evaluate this, and we intend to migrate users in the same as we did when we took people off the Contact e-mail system a while back.”

The move to Exchange should deliver new functionality and improved usability to NHSmail users.

This will include “full mobile access via an extensive range of wireless devices, facilitating access to the many peripatetic workers in the NHS, full support for shared calendar use between doctors and managers, easier navigation between screens and functions, and the ability to share contacts between users. Exchange will also enable much faster recovery should any event impact one of the two data centres,” Bradshaw told Parliament.

“As a result of this, early contact with NHS trusts and NHS staff indicates that the transition to Exchange is likely to increase NHSmail user take-up above the current rate of 5,000 new users per month,” the minister added.

Moss agreed with the minister’s prediction, saying: “We also anticipate this rise in take-up. Already, we are getting a lot of interest from trusts and organisations to move to Exchange. People are genuinely interested and we aspire for the 800,000 NHS staff that use e-mail to use NHSmail as the core default secure messaging service.”

NHSmail is the email and directory service designed specifically for NHS staff. It is provided free of charge in England and Scotland and has been developed by Cable & Wireless. In 2002 Electronic Data Systems was first awarded the contract for an NHS corporate email system but had their contract terminated in 2004.