The must-read stories and debate in health policy and leadership.

Email shutdown

On Saturday, a fault in a data centre in Slough resulted in the “complete shutdown” of the NHS’ central email service.

NHS Digital, which manages the central NHSmail service, said the shutdown occurred at about 12.30pm (although some users claim they’d been shut out since 11am).

NHS Digital confirmed the service was back up and running by 7pm and “apologised for the inconvenience caused”. 

The exact number the shutdown affected is yet to be confirmed and not all parts of the NHS use this central system. However, NHS Digital has previously said there are more than 1.2 million NHSmail accounts in England and Wales and, early on, the shutdown was described as universal.

NHS Digital does not run NHSmail itself but outsources the job to consultancy firm Accenture, which won a £60m contract to run the service in 2015.

Accenture was charged with replacing an ageing email system that, at the time, was described as a “burning platform” and regularly suffered outages.

However, this is not the first time NHSmail has run into difficulty under Accenture. In November 2016, a fault in the “reply all” function accidentally generated more than 840,000 additional emails, overwhelming the system and shutting users out for several hours.

This latest fault was not believed to be the result of a malicious attack but rather a routine software upgrade that went wrong. A senior source has told HSJ the consultancy giant is very likely to face “big penalties” over the incident

NHS Digital has said it will ensure a “full post-incident review will be conducted to ensure appropriate lessons are learned”.

A tidy sum

The big winner of the recent NHS clinical waste stockpiling scandal appears to be Mitie, which is earning a tidy sum for taking over services removed from under-pressure company Healthcare Environmental Services.

HES told HSJ it was charging 18 trusts in Yorkshire and Humber £3.3m a year to collect and dispose of clinical waste. That was until its contracts were cancelled after the Environment Agency closed part of one of its waste management stations for breaching permit levels.

A new deal was hastily put in place with facilities management company Mitie, which – as HSJ revealed – is charging three times the price at £10.4m per year.

It is a hefty rise, even when one accepts the price was always going to be higher than that offered by HES.

The threefold sum could affect 30 other trusts whose waste services HES continues to provide, should those trusts need to move across to Mitie.

Ultimately, the big loser from the debacle is the taxpayer – despite NHS procurement staff claiming its deal with HES would save the Yorkshire and Humber trusts millions of pounds back in 2010 when the contract was signed.

The Department of Health and Social Care said pricing was a matter for the companies concerned.