NHS mail system grinds to a halt after email list error

A bug in the NHS email system meant that 850,000 staff received a flurry of ‘reply all’ emails while others saw delays in their email accounts.

NHS workers were inundated with emails and many couldn’t access their inboxes at all – Photo credit: Flickr, card karmaCC BY 2.0

An IT contractor using the secure email service NHSmail 2, which was launched earlier this year, set up an email distribution list that “inadvertently included everyone on the NHS Mail system”, NHS Digital said in a statement.

“This was not the fault of the user and was due to a bug in the supplier’s system,” NHS Digital said.

It added that Accenture, which provides the system, had disabled the list “as soon as the issue was identified” – but not before many users had responded to the entire list by hitting ‘reply all’.

By 12pm, one NHS employee said on Twitter that she had “already deleted 123 emails”, while another posted at 2.30pm that he had had 411 emails.

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The volume of emails this generated meant that some users being unable to access their emails at all during the morning of 14 November, and NHS Digital later acknowledged that “a number of email accounts have been operating slowly”.

In a statement issued in the afternoon, after the reply-all option had been turned off and the list disabled, NHS Digital said: “We anticipate that emails sent before the distribution list was disabled will soon stop being received and that the issue will be resolved.”

Many users took to social media to vent their frustration during the slow operation, with most calling on their colleagues to stop pressing reply all.

“My favourite was the one that said “You’re just making it worse, stop replying to everyone.” In a reply to everyone,” tweeted user @kristian4444.

Others tried to offer practical advice, with Barny Leavers recommending that people “right click on any email to Croydon practices, go to create rule, and auto-move them all to deleted items”.

Meanwhile, Jennifer O’Malley, a patient engagement worker from Bristol, took a different take on the fiasco, commenting: “For the first time in history NHS organisations communicated with each other today, what a revelation, what a time to be alive.”


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