NHSmail suffers national outage, Bupa extends partnership with Babylon, and more UK digital health news briefs

By Leontina Postelnicu
08:38 AM
Also: GP practices pilot new functionality for electronic prescriptions, and NHS staff are reportedly being investigated for illegally accessing medical records.

Credit: Graeme Robertson/ Getty Images

NHSmail national outage caused by “software issue”

The national NHS email service managed by Accenture suffered a "severity 1" outage midday on 1 December, caused by a “software issue in the supplier’s internal infrastructure”, which meant that NHS staff were unable to access their accounts. All users had their access restored by 8pm, and accounts locked out after multiple login attempts were unlocked by 10.30pm the same day. The NHSmail service is approved by the Department of Health and Social Care for sharing patient-identifiable and sensitive information.

“We apologise for the inconvenience caused and worked to resolve the issue as soon as possible, which was caused by an internal issue with the supplier’s software. Thank you to the teams today [1 December] who have worked hard to resolve this,” NHS Digital said in a statement.

In November 2016, a software configuration error saw an NHSmail local administrator accidentally email all NHS staff in England after creating a new distribution list intended to include only employees within one Commissioning Support Unit. Around 500 million emails that needed to be processed were sent in only 75 minutes, as staff used the “reply to all” function asking to be removed from the list. The incident resulted in “significant service delays for the majority of the day” at the time, according to a report presented to the NHS Digital board.

NHS staff investigated for illegally accessing medical records of Sir Alex Ferguson

The Sunday Times has reported that two doctors and a senior hospital consultant were being investigated and “at least” two nurses questioned for accessing former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s medical records. Ferguson was admitted to the Salford Royal Hospital in May this year after suffering a brain haemorrhage.

In a statement provided to the paper, Dr Chris Brookes, Northern Care Alliance NHS Group Chief Medical Officer, said an investigation was underway “to determine if the individuals have accessed a patient’s record electronically without a clinical requirement or authorisation”.

Last week, the Information Commissioner’s Office, the UK’s data protection watchdog, fined a former trainee secretary at a GP surgery in Norfolk for unlawfully accessing 231 patient records without a valid reason to do so.

“People whose job allows them access to confidential and often sensitive information have been placed in a position of trust, and with that trust comes added responsibility,” said Mike Shaw, the ICO’s Criminal Investigation Group Manager. “Data protection law exists for a reason and curiosity or boredom is no excuse for failing to respect people’s legal right to privacy. Just because you can do something, that doesn’t mean you should.”

New pilot moves the NHS further away from paper prescriptions

Eight GP practices in England are piloting a new functionality that could, once fully rolled out, see more than 95 per cent of prescriptions be processed through the Electronic Prescription Service (EPS). The digital system currently allows GP surgeries to send prescriptions to a dispenser (such as a pharmacy) nominated by the patient. But if the new pilot, which will be extended to other practices in 2019, proves successful, the improvement will allow prescriptions for all patients to be sent using the EPS, according to NHS Digital.

“In an NHS where thousands of GP surgeries already enjoy the benefits of electronic prescriptions, it can’t be right that there are occasions when archaic paper prescriptions still have to be used,” Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said earlier this year.

Bupa extends partnership with Babylon

Bupa’s existing and new SME customers in the UK with two or more employees will be given access to the Babylon app starting from January next year, the company said last week, after announcing that it would roll out the service to its corporate customers back in June.

“Our business customers often say it’s hard to find the time to look after their health, this is even more apparent for employees or owners of a small company,” said Mark Allan, Bupa UK Insurance Commercial Director. “We’re always looking for ways to make access to quality healthcare easier and more convenient – extending our work with Babylon is a key part of this."

Twitter: @1Leontina
Contact the author: lpostelnicu@himss.org