The head of the NHSmail programme has said that he wants “most” NHS organisations to have migrated to NHSmail by the time its current contract expires in July 2013.

In a briefing to mark the first anniversary of the service’s move to the Microsoft Exchange 2007 platform, Will Moss told E-Health Insider that 200 organisations – ranging in size from foundation trusts to individual GP practices – were due to migrate before the end of the calendar year.

Moss said the programme was still hoping to move NHSmail onto the Microsoft Exchange 2010 platform this year and that it would deliver some new functionality, including ‘inbound’ SMS messaging.

But he said its main focus was now on migration, boosted by references in this year’s Operating Framework and Informatics Planning guidance that told trusts not to invest in their own email services unless they could produce a business case that would stack up against NHSmail.

“The priority has to be to move whole organisations so we can decommission existing services,” he said. “There are 565 top-level organisations in the NHS and 1,000 GP practices.

“By the end of the contract in July 2013, we need to have done most of those. Whether that will be front, middle or end-loaded I do not know. It will be driven by trust priorities.”

Cable & Wireless decided to move NHSmail off its Mirapoint platform in July 2008. The move to Exchange 2007 started in January 2009, and 350,167 live accounts were shifted over 12 weeks.

Sign-ups have since grown steadily. NHS Connecting for Health announced this month that NHSmail had reached the “major milestone” of 500,000 registered accounts.

Moss told EHI that half a billion emails and almost one and a half million SMS messages had been sent over the service since last April. “We will be doing a companion piece to outbound SMS, which is inbound SMS,” he added.

“We hope to provide inbound SMS this year.” This would allow patients to communicate with the health service, and, specifically, to respond to appointment reminders – which could help to cut ‘did not attend’ rates.

However, Moss emphasised that the NHSmail programme is focused on helping trusts to carry out migration projects. It has developed a tool to copy data from Exchange 2003 and Exchange 2007, and is working on a similar migration tools for other email platforms.

It has also produced a bulk registration tool to sign staff up for NHSmail accounts. CfH says the migration tool was proved in a pilot project at Weston Area Health NHS Trust, which migrated 1,800 staff from Exchange 2003 to NHSmail in November.

The next high-profile organisations slated to move include Sussex Health Informatics Service and the Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust in London.

CfH has been running a campaign to persuade the chief executives, finance directors and medical directors of the 60 largest trusts in England to sign up for NHSmail.

It argues that trusts that need to provide 2,500 mailboxes could save £879,000 over five years by migrating, with most of the savings being made on servers and other equipment and the rest on maintenance and support.

Moss launched a vigorous defence of NHSmail as an enterprise class service, in response to comments on the EHI website claiming that large organisations could not use it as their sole email system.

“We have got 200 organisations in this calendar year to migrate to NHSmail. They are not doing it because it is a laugh or they have nothing better to do. They think it is fit for purpose and has benefits for them.”

He also rebutted comments claiming that NHSmail could not be used with other applications, such as SharePoint and Office Communications Server, although he acknowledged that it would not integrate with trust Active Directories.

“The AD question that should be asked is: would we look at federating local AD instances with a national instance and the answer is we would, but only if they had our level of security and they do not,” he said.

However, he argued that it should not be much effort to run NHSmail alongside other services that used Active Directory, and that any effort would be reduced once the service became CRS Smartcard compliant, which should happen “soon.”

Link: The financial case for NHSmail