Keeping emails safe and secure at NHS Kernow

18 / 09 / 2014

As the Clinical Commissioning Group for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, NHS Kernow encapsulates 69 local practices that form 10 GP locality groups.  The group’s principle work is to buy health services on behalf of local people, from general hospital care such as Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, to mental health care, children’s care or community health services.

At all public authorities, there is immense reliance and pressure placed on the group’s IT infrastructure, in particular the email system which is shared across the entire NHS Kernow network. Due to the nature of the business, issues surrounding mailbox size and archiving are an ongoing challenge for any email system. NHS Kernow recently took the decision to move away from Groupwise email and, at the same time, incorporate a proven, robust solution to tackle all of its email archiving requirements.

The group’s existing email system was coming to the end of its life, which had led to a multitude of users creating a large set of PST files – Outlook data files commonly used as a mechanism for message archiving or for avoiding mailbox quotas. NHS Kernow typically had PST files saved twice per user – once on their computer’s local drive and once on the user’s home drive on the central server.

The problems with the use of PST data files have been well documented. One of the major difficulties is that they are prone to corruption, the original PST file format had a 2GB limit and corruption could occur if the file grew beyond this size. PST files that are stored in locations where they might be accessed by more than one user at a time are particularly problematic, as would have been the case at NHS Kernow. Alongside the potential to cause data loss and compliance issues, PST files also pose a significant challenge in the mail search process.

Due to several ongoing issues, NHS Kernow decided to upgrade its mail system to a solution used by health departments nationwide, NHSmail. This centrally hosted secure email system is unique to the NHS and has more than 600,000 active users. It is seen as the most cost-effective email option for NHS organisations as it is secure enough to email patient records, yet it removes the need for expensive servers and hardware on site. One of the challenges with NHSmail, however, is the mailbox size quotas for the majority of users. At 400MB per mailbox it encourages users to archive their emails using PST files, which again raises the issue of storage problems.

Paul Jacka, IT strategy lead for NHS Kernow and primary care Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly stated: “NHS Kernow had experiences of corrupted PST archive files of several key mail accounts which impacted on our ability to provide a swift, efficient and professional response to queries. Some of the organisations’ PSTs were 10GB in size due to the vast communications and audit required within legal, communications, contracts, finance and executive teams.

“NHS Kernow required an enterprise solution, efficient, cost-effective and easy to install, manage and use. Due to NHSmail about to be upgraded or replaced nationally the only guaranteed constant was our client access, so we needed the solution to work today on our client (Outlook 2010) and to remain working with any future client releases.”

With 69 primary care practices all migrating from GroupWise to NHSmail and Outlook 2010 NHS Kernow also needed a solution for every site, in order to ensure they also benefited from the system.
“One major area of concern was the ability to search for emails, easily, swiftly and not for this to lock out our client access whilst the search was happening. NHS Kernow chose Mailsafe as this product matched all our specifications and the support for installation and training has been exemplary. The ability to search thousands of emails and return the results in a couple of seconds was the ideal solution we required.

“In addition, the ability for a PA to have ‘alias’ access to the executive’s archives was a very welcomed, unique and valued bonus when we started testing and evaluating solutions,” said Jacka.
Mike Freeman, Sales Director of Techne-Comm Ltd, explained: “NHS Kernow migrated its users to the main NHSmail service and were also looking for a solution to manage their emails without users filling up their NHSmail mailboxes to their quota limit. They also wanted a solution that wouldn’t involve creating more PST files for those emails that had to be kept. The group was also interested in knowing exactly where the original PST files were located so they could be imported into a central archive. This would overcome the storage problems and offer a more efficient way of locating these difficult-to-access emails.”

The group selected Techne-Comm’s Mailsafe solution for its 250 users, a solution that is already in use in a number of NHS Trusts and Departments. Mailsafe is a single instance email archiving software solution that interfaces with Outlook for NHSmail and is unique because of its user side email archiving feature. It does not use outdated stubbing techniques and enables emails to be selected by the user and then securely archived ‘on site’ whilst guaranteeing privacy.

In every area of the NHS there is the potential for frequent Freedom of Information requests and the possibility of litigation issues so it is vitally important for these departments to be able to find and locate documents easily, including emails. Mailsafe enables fast searching, finding and viewing of archived emails via an integrated toolbar in Outlook, which meets both user and administrator demands.

Freeman said: “One key feature that NHS Kernow really values is the Mailsafe “alias” feature which will allow a user’s archived emails to be accessed by others, for example, when an employee is sick or has left the organisation, or a PA to a Director. Retention of the user’s Personal Folder structure in the Mailsafe archive was also key to the group, making it easy for users to adopt the solution. Also, the automatic archiving feature meant archiving could be handled automatically to ensure users stayed within their NHSmail quota.”

In addition to the current sites, NHS Kernow has also purchased a further 2000 user licences for its 69 main GP practices and a further 70 branch sites. Roll out to these GPs will begin later this month. Mailsafe’s largest installation in the NHS to date is in excess of 19,000 mailboxes.