Monday, 14 November 2016

NHS email

The NHS email system hit a rock today.

An unnamed IT staffer sent a test email to a list containing 1.2 million NHS employees. Some of those emailed back to the list with "please take me off this list" or "Did you make a mistake"; each such email resulted in another 1.2 million emails. And some people had "Acknowledge receipt" with mean that just reading that email sent another email.

You can imagine what happened to the email server. It's called an email storm. It's not easy to sort out; you have to filter out emails about the email storm and delete them unsent. It must have been a nightmare for the IT staff.

But what I'm wondering is, how was this even possible? How do you set up an email list of 1.2 million people; you aren't going to be typing them in one at a time.

And when you hit "send", why did the email system allow it through? If I were designing the NHS email system, I'd put an upper limit on the number of people that you could send an email to. Which would be less than a hundred.


  1. We have a list serve system for my school so that the administrators can email everyone at once and that probably includes 15,000-20,000 people. I've seen a couple of people who have accidentally hit reply all to those, but it has never gotten out of hand like that email did.

  2. It went wrong because the NHS is a government-run bureaucracy. This is not the only thing that has gone wrong with it either, just the most hilarious this week. They are pretty good at covering up most of their routine, smaller scale errors, and punishing any staff that leaks about them.