NHS overly reliant on email for communications, Providers lead warns

The NHS is too reliant on email and must work to use different forms of internal communications that are safer from cyber-attack, an NHS Providers boss stated this week.

Writing in a blog about the health service’s recent IT woes, Daniel Reynolds, director of communications at NHS Providers, slammed “disastrous planning” and the overuse of dated email systems as part of the reason why IT systems were not as secure from attack as they should have been.

Though the blog also conceded that the NHS handled the response well, a number of other areas for improvement were also highlighted in the blog.

“Many felt the NHS was too reliant on traditional IT systems such as email – both in terms of internal communications within trusts and when national bodies were seeking to get messages through to frontline communications teams,” wrote Reynolds.

“We’ve been told by many communicators that national bodies were giving them guidance over email when those same hospitals had already taken down their IT systems, including email, as a precautionary measure.”

Reynolds went on to state that as well as being insecure, an over reliance on email was also leading to communication issues within trusts.

He quoted one communicator who said: “For us the biggest problem was using NHS email to communicate issues during an incident that involved NHS email. In our trust, all incoming emails were blocked for several days, so we missed almost all of the central messages.

“We missed the first three regional conference calls because details were only sent by email. When we asked about the public messaging, we were told the messages (while public) couldn't be emailed to a non-NHS account.”

This led Reynolds to call for other ways of cascading important messages in the future, suggesting that messaging apps like Whatsapp could prove invaluable to trusts.

“We will need to find other ways of cascading messages in future, most obviously via mobile, personal email or messaging applications such as WhatsApp,” he argued. “We know that some regional communications networks – working across providers, commissioners and regional offices of the central bodies – have now set up a WhatsApp group.”

The importance of communicating across regions rather than solely within individual organisations was also raised. One director of communications at Northumbria Healthcare NHS FT, Claire Riley, wrote in PR Week “the North East and North Cumbria we quickly worked together across health providers, commissioners, ambulance services and mental health providers to ensure we were consistent in the message and communications approach and this worked well and help to ensure an effective and streamlined approach”.

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