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Last week I received a letter through the post from Marks and Spencer inviting me to take up some of their insurance offers for my pet albatross. As my albatross has recently died, I had no need for this offer and my immediate thoughts were: ‘This is not meant for me, please remove me from this mailing list.’

We all owe each other a duty to be careful, especially within the NHS

So, do you know what I did? I found out who else was on the same mailing list and I sent a letter to all of them to tell them I should not be on the list, please remove me from the list, or find someone who could remove me from the list. I didn’t think about this for long, or the consequences of my actions (I wish I had because first class stamps are quite expensive), I just did it. That showed them - I don’t think I’ll be hearing from them for a while.

What is it about electronic communication or storage of information that causes sensible people to do silly things? I think it’s just too easy - we can phone from the top of Everest, text from underwater, and Facetime Australia from the back garden. Communication is easy and we take it for granted - at the press of a button we have access to nearly a million people through our magnificent NHS. I’m no IT expert but that’s a powerful tool, one that must be handled carefully, and in the wrong hands could even be dangerous.

I remember in the early 90s driving around Sussex spending the whole weekend on call as a GP trainee, looking for public telephone boxes and keeping well stocked with 2p and 5p pieces so I could answer a bleep, and phone patients on the hop. Life was somehow less hurried, patients were patient, and I’m not sure were any worse off than they are now. On occasions we even had to wait until we got home at night to talk to our loved ones, or we managed to pass a whole week without taking a photograph, or ‘liking’ something. I admit that perhaps I look back at those days with rose tinted spectacles, or at least with a light Valencia filter and 20% vignette applied.

To be honest, the reply all offenders are not just there in the NHS. They are there in every aspect of my inbox - my son’s cricket team being one of the biggest offenders. We all owe each other a duty to be careful, especially within the NHS, and especially as we are all so flippin’ busy and overloaded. Whilst it may be mildly amusing this time, the consequences could have been much more serious if patient information had been involved.

So to help ease communication I’ve set up an NHS WhatsApp group - you’ll get an invite soon but it’s taking a small while to enter everyone’s contact details. Does anyone know if Roslyn is available to help? Maybe I’ll drop her an email.

Richard Cook is a GP partner in Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex. You can follow him on Twitter @drmoderate

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Readers' comments (5)

  • No real axe to grind here as now retired and pleased I am to be so. However it beggars belief to see these Muppets, who presumably are paid a wage, hitting the “reply to all” button. I cannot remember when I last used that button rather than the ordinary “reply to” button. Unless you are including a group, all known to you, there is never a need. And yet this is what we see.

    I recall some 20 years ago when emailing was in its infancy we would have an email loop where one would email another, within a small emailing group, both having an autoreply on and, Whammo!, hundreds of emails in your inbox. That was dealt with by design within the server (?) but apparently not the NHS server. As with all these things the system allowed it to happen and even a basic IT numptie could see it should have been designed out.

    Remove the “Reply to all’ button would be a start and make people think where they are sending their email.

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  • I even get frustrated within the practice about this. Someone will - quite reasonably - email all (100+) staff to say, for instance, "a patient has complimented us on the way we handled their asthma"

    So far so good.

    But then there comes a trail of "reply to all" with people saying things like "glad to hear this"; "well done the nurses"...

    Maybe I'm an email grouch but I just don't need to pick through numerous polite responses to a simple congratulations message!

    Grrr.

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  • I think the problem is with the software design rather than the user. It's very easy to click the wrong button whilst battling the daily deluge of data. A few simple lines of code could have stopped this from happening on such a massive scale.

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  • The old days before all this technology were most definitely better and patients were better off for it.
    For a start we made more eye contact with them, without the distraction of a hateful computer screen.
    No, you are not looking at the pre-mobile age through rose tinted spectacles, it was indeed better!

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  • Considering that there were about a million people emailed, the number who did reply all was reassuringly small. Maybe it was a test to see who needed to be given extra training? The fact that relatively few GPs replied will probably because we are so used to daft emails arriving that we all just ignored it! Our practice manager was pulling his hair out though!

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