NHS Digital has announced plans to integrate NHSmail with Office 365 in an attempt to improve communications and collaboration within Britain’s healthcare service.

The plans will enable NHS staff to log into cloud applications and services using their NHSmail credentials and use them to share information.

The first phase of the project will see the NHSmail directory integrated with the Microsoft Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) cloud platform. NHS Digital aims to have completed this stage by April.

The second step will be the integration of NHSmail with Office 365, Microsoft’s suite of cloud-based work programmes. As a result, NHS staff will be able to collaborate and share information using Microsoft’s cloud services.

Currently, NHS staff can share patient information via Microsoft Exchange and Skype for Business within NHSmail, which is available for use by any organisation commissioned to deliver publicly-funded healthcare.

Neil Bennett, Service Director for NHS Digital, suggested the project would reassure patients that their information was being handled securely and remained confidential.

“This synchronisation of NHSmail to Azure AD and integration with Office 365 is part of our long-term vision to bring about greater collaboration across the wider health and care system,” said Bennett.

“It means information can be more readily and securely shared between health and care organisations and teams can collaborate more easily.

“Ultimately it will enable NHS staff to access multiple applications and services using their NHSmail user name and password which makes their job easier.

Office 365 services will be hosted in EU or US data centres in accordance with NHS Digital’s recently-published guidance on offshoring data and the use of public cloud services.

Meanwhile, NHSmail Exchange and Skype for Business services – which will remain outside of the Office 365 product suite – will continue to be hosted in data centres in England.

NHS Digital gave public cloud the official all-clear in January this year.

While enthusiasm around the migration to cloud has been high, NHS organisations have been told to do so as part of a carefully considered and risk-managed approach.

Meanwhile, NHS England is currently believed to be negotiating a new enterprise-wide licensing deal with Microsoft to bring NHS trusts onto the latest Windows operating systems.