NHS shifts two national services to the cloud

Appointment service and NHS 111 directory are the first major services to make the move

The NHS has migrated two of its national services to the cloud, hoping to cut costs while improving security and efficiency of services.

The NHS e-Referral Service (e-RS) and NHS 111 Directory of Services (DoS) are the first major NHS systems to make the migration under the government's cloud-first policy, with both using AWS.

The aim is to cut costs at both services, but there are other benefits, says Neil Bennett, director of services at NHS Digital. "Costs are lowered, reducing pressure on the public purse, there is better security and reliability, as well as greater flexibility, performance, scalability and availability, to name a few," he said.

The e-RS is a booking service that handles 18 million referrals annually, letting patients from more than 1,100 GP practices choose clinics, hospitals and dates and times for appointments. It's now enabled for booking and managing such appointments via the internet, but that won't be available until later this year when NHS Identity takes over authentication, the NHS said in a statement.

The DoS helps connect patients to the appropriate service for the health concerns, helping relieve pressure on urgent and emergency care. It handles 16 million searches annually.

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Migrating such important services without disrupting patient care was key, explained Bennett: "This was a tremendous collaborative effort across many different teams here and with external partners, to migrate such large systems with a minimum of disruption to users, in a reasonably short timescale." 

Alongside cutting costs and improving services for patients, the migration to cloud is a key part of the NHS' sustainability strategy, said Ben Tongue, sustainability manager at NHS Digital.

"Large cloud operators like AWS provide significant energy and carbon savings against enterprise and legacy systems," he said. "We are working with AWS to achieve full transparency on the energy use and carbon impact of the contract, so that we can continue to focus on ensuring that our storage systems are as energy efficient as possible, reducing carbon emissions and minimising environmental impact."

Last year, the NHS unveiled a cloud framework to simplify procurement, hoping to help migrate more services as part of the government's cloud-first policy. Patient records stored by EMIS are already making the shift to AWS, while Barts Health NHS Trust is moving its IT estate to the cloud via Capgemini, but research suggests many NHS trusts remain wary of the cloud.

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