The Department of Health has announced that consultancy firm Accenture has won a £60 million contract to provide the new NHSmail service the same week the current system was out of action for several hours.

Accenture was nominated as preferred supplier for the service, which allows NHS professionals to message each other on a secure network, back in April this year beating competition from BT.

The final contract covering Scotland and England has now been confirmed, with the transition of accounts from the current service to the n to take place over autumn and winter of this year, according to the Health and Social Care Information Centre.

Accenture takes over from Cable and Wireless (now part of Vodafone), which has been the supplier for NHSmail since its launch in 2002, initially using the Mirapoint platform but moving onto Microsoft Exchange 2007 in 2009.

The HSCIC says on its website that the transition process “will be very low impact and carried out 'silently' so users won't have to do anything to prepare, or be at work on the day of transition.”

The organisation adds that it anticipates “mailboxes, calendars, tasks and notes will be automatically moved to the new service with very little impact” and that mailbox permissions and passwords will be “continuous from the current to the new service.” 

By spring 2016, following the transition period, the HSCIC says that top-up services and additional user features will be available while there are also plans for the new NHS Directory and user administration tools to go live at this time.

Specific new features that will be part of Accenture’s provision of the service include 4GB mailboxes as standard for all users. Organisations will have the option to purchase bigger mailboxes if required.

Accenture will also provide an instant messaging service, which NHS staff will be able to use to see the availability of other NHSmail users and communicate quickly with them.

The HSCIC did not confirm what tool would be used to provide the IM service, although there have been suggestions that Accenture will use Microsoft Lync.

The NHSmail Requirements document adds that this IM service should include the ability for video conferencing.

Additional updates and improvements will continue to be delivered until the summer of 2020 based on feedback from users of the current system.

Feedback for the service this week has been fairly negative, with the HSCIC confirming that NHSmail was down for a part of Monday due to issues with the N3 network, although did not specify how long or what the specific issues were.

A spokeswoman said: “We worked with our supplier, BT, to fix this issue as a matter of urgency and service has now been restored, although some users may experience delays as the backlog of emails is processed.

“We apologise for any inconvenience caused.” Several NHS staff who were left without access to email used Twitter to vent their frustration or ask for updates on the situation.

Users included consultant rheumatologist James Bateman (@JamesBateman) who said: #nhsmail not working! This is a national issue?? Anyone know for definite/ timeline for fixing it?!”

GP Dr Kash Khan (@drkashkhan) tweeted: “Dear god/jeremy hunt, why is NHS mail so crap?”