Nurses and other NHS staff in England will be able to communicate with each other through the introduction of more integrated IT systems later this year, according to NHS Digital.
Under the plans, health service staff will in future be able to log in to a range of “cloud-based” applications – that can be accessed online wherever they are working – using the single username and password they already use for NHSmail.
“It means information can be more readily and securely shared between health and care organisations”
The so-called “single sign-on” initiative will integrate Office 365 with NHSmail, which uses Microsoft Exchange and Skype for Business to securely share patient information.
It will mean NHS employees can securely log into email and a range of other applications using one secure set of credentials, saving time and the need to remember multiple passwords. NHS Digital noted that all health service employees and provider organisations could already potentially use NHSmail.
It said the “first part of the journey” would be the synchronisation of the NHSmail directory with a cloud-based management system called Azure AD, which is expected to be completed by this April.
This initial move will be followed by integration of the system with Office 365 services – commonly known as O365 – which should be completed by August. Office 365 includes services such as OneDrive for Business, SharePoint Online, Teams and Yammer.
Neil Bennett, service director for NHS Digital, said: “This synchronisation of NHSmail to Azure AD and integration with O365 is part of our long-term vision to bring about greater collaboration across the wider health and care system.
“It means information can be more readily and securely shared between health and care organisations and teams can collaborate more easily,” he said.
“Ultimately, it will enable NHS staff to access multiple applications and services using their NHSmail user name and password which makes their job easier,” said Mr Bennett.
“Ultimately, it will enable NHS staff to access multiple applications and services using their NHSmail user name and password”
He added: “This benefits patients because it makes the NHS more efficient and they can be assured that their confidentiality continues to be strictly maintained.”
NHS Digital said O365 services would be hosted in European Union or US data centres in accordance with recently published guidance on offshoring data and the use of public cloud services.
In contrast, NHSmail Exchange and Skype for Business services will continue to be hosted within NHSmail data centres in England.
The existing national NHSmail service team will continue to provide frontline support for “core” NHSmail service and any organisation wishing to use the NHSmail/O365 hybrid, said NHS Digital.
It suggested that users would see no change in how they currently accessed NHSmail, and there would be no additional licence costs resulting from the synchronisation.