back to article NHS IT bod sends test email to 850k users – and then responses are sent 'reply all'

A test email sent by accident to 850,000 NHS workers has caused utter chaos after being sent from an apparently incorrectly configured* email distribution list. The sender, whom The Register will identify only as R, sent the blank message with a subject line that simply read "test" to a distribution list called …


    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      however it would be interesting to consider the same thing happening on a O365 account.

      Surely the O365 'gods' will have distribution lists that disable reply/reply all...

  1. Youngdog

    Disable Reply to All

    Why is it that those most prone to complaining about unwanted emails cluttering up their mailbox inevitably hit 'Reply to All' thus cluttering up everyone else's mailbox! An over developed sense of irony? Tragic lack of self-awareness? Or (as I suspect) is it just an unquenchable need to let other people know how busy and/or important they think they are.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Disable Reply to All

      It's the sort of situation that requires ritual humiliation.

      Back in the days of character terminals we had MOTD set to remind users to log out. Inevitably there were those who didn't so the message got amended with "This includes you, xxxxxx", edited each time we caught an un-logged out user's name. It was effective in a remarkably short space of time although we were eventually asked to remove the last offender's name.

      Maybe this is a case for an article in a newsletter explaining how it went wrong initially and then was made many times worse by the following people sending a reply to all....

      And no, they can't complain about data protection. They outed themselves themselves.

      1. Marcelo Rodrigues

        Re: Disable Reply to All

        "It's the sort of situation that requires ritual humiliation."

        Upvoted just for this. :D

  2. Commswonk

    Obligatory Dilbert...

    Plus ça change...

  3. This post has been deleted by its author

  4. Andre Carneiro

    Still going...

    It's still happening...


    How do you forward emails to /dev/null ?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Me thinks 'RL, Senior IT Facilitator' will be looking for another job tomorrow. Some words such as 'Agency', 'Vacancies' and 'Barge Pole' spring to mind.

    and they are still coming in but not as quickly now...

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Hmmm

      "and they are still coming in but not as quickly now..."

      That's probably just the system bogging down and the servers melt and go offline.

  6. Aeia

    New feature?

    Anyone spotted this on the support page

    In the new portal features on the 13th December they added:

    5981: Add users/contact from other organisations to a DL Distribution List owners may now add members, owner and authorised senders from any organisation, and not just their own.

    Ooops.. maybe a feature they regret adding..

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    .. slowly catching up

    Just receiving emails from 11am now from legitimate senders of legitimate emails .. including two telling me that they couldn't attend my 11am call. I would like to apologise in advance for the email they probably haven't received yet asking why if they weren't going to be on the call they hadn't sent an apology in advance.

  8. Erroneous Howard

    Reply All......

    Gotta love people who get an email, then reply all saying "I don't need to be on this email". They don't seem to understand the irony.

    1. CustardGannet

      Re: Reply All......

      They'll probably have learned the hard way now : NHS staff are quite reliable at setting their 'out-of-office' assistant - so assuming that one-sixth of the NHS workforce is off work at any given time, each person who replied-all will have received about 200,000 OOH replies...

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I love the ones ..

    that say "Please don't reply to all" ..

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    More than 1.2 million emails

    There are actually more than 1.2 million emails clogging up the NHS email system thanks to everyone who "replied-to-all" saying "Please remove me etc....". The Guardian says 186 million. Moral? Take a deep breath, ask why this is happening and put brain in gear before hitting that send button.

  11. BagOfSpanners

    A valuable insight into human nature

    I work for a big company that recently had a reply all storm. The people who replied-all seemed to fall into a number of categories:

    1. I'm really important, why are you bothering me with this. (Don't understand what's going on.)

    2. Oh no, help! I don't know what's going on, will somebody please tell me whether this email is relevant to me. (Don't understand what's going on.)

    3. Please fill in form A34/FD and follow procedure 3004/R4 if you want this email to be actioned. (Don't understand what's going on.)

    4. Ha ha this is fun! (Understand what's going on.)

    5. Please don't reply all. (Understand what's going on.)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A valuable insight into human nature

      I have sometimes been a 4 to watch things crash and burn and to make the point that this is what happens when you do not do it right.

    2. bish

      Re: 4s don't really understand

      At my place, this used to happen quite frequently. Fortunately, 'all' was only about a thousand addresses (assuming internal only - there were a couple that went out, they were a separate matter). Thing is, the COO (now departed) was a 4 on the above scale, so every couple of weeks you'd get an email from a dunce who hadn't used Bcc, swiftly followed by our most senior tech, also not using Bcc to publicly upbraid the dunce. To be fair, once nearly every one of the grunts had been humiliated, they didn't repeat their mistake, and the culture of cheerfully Ccing enormous distribution lists evaporated. But I do still have nearly 100 emails from said former COO, each with two sets of fancy schmancy signatures with graphics and social media links, clogging up my Outlook inbox (of course I could delete or archive, but I have principles). Given how few of our staff ever delete anything (we have folders last accessed over ten years ago), that's around 100,000 emails from a COO, Ccing everyone to tell them not to Cc everyone.

    3. Robert Baker
      IT Angle

      Re: A valuable insight into human nature

      "5. Please don't reply all. (Understand what's going on.)"

      That last one should be "kids themselves that they understand what's going on, but they actually don't, especially not the deep irony of replying to all to say 'don't reply to all'."

  12. TeeCee Gold badge

    Seen it.

    Every time this sort of thing happens I think that the person sending the mail is probably a bit of an idiot.

    Words do not exist to describe the intelligence levels of those who feel it necessary to reply to an obvious cockup.

    Every time this happened at work, I'd get the original mail and then hundreds of variations on "Did you mean to send this to me?", all of which seemed to come across as "Baaaaaaaaa".

    1. herman Silver badge

      Re: Seen it.

      The problem is not the dumb users. The problem is the dum bass who configured the mail system in such a way that this failure is possible. Any self respecting mail server should block spam - including HR spam and other idiocies like this.

  13. Anonymous IV


    Surely not a distribution list but rather a collection of indictable offences?

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    not long after I started where I work now (back in 98) we had a not so nice mail loop. We were a Novell groupwise shop at the time. A user left and set a forward to their new email address at a Uni and then a forward back from that account to there still active account at our site! Oh the joy email totally bombed for days and as was quite common back then Groupwise sat on our main Netware server meaning that users couldn't login either as all the servers resources were taken by groupwise.

  15. Tashritu


    NHS e-mail totally stuffed. Non functioning and fair number of "remove me from this list" reply all mails coming through in Hertfordshire. Mon pm.

  16. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    Is it possible... jump the queue by going Private?

  17. 5AC7

    Support for R

    Sounds like it wasn't R's fault after all, but a system configuration issue from NHS Digital:

  18. Commswonk

    Not quite the same, or the same scale, but...

    Once upon a time when I worked for <bit of civil service> I had an important, and fairly urgent, need to inform users of <thing> about something. (Can't recall exactly what now; it was many years ago!) and the only way I could reach them all quickly was by sending an email to "All Users" even though it would reach perhaps 500 - 800 "non - users". With an opening sentence of "if you are not a user of <thing> then you can delete this email at once and I apologise for having troubled you" or something of the sort.

    I turned off Read Receipts, selected All Users and pressed Send. Two seconds later I got a rejection, so I walked 3 doors down the corridor to IT. "Ah; you don't have permission for that - you can have it but at your own risk".

    What could possibly go wrong?

    Back to my desk, set it all up again and pressed send. Within 10 seconds I realised my ghastly mistake; this time I had forgotten to turn Read Receipts off, and I was being bombarded with them. The bombardment was pretty intense for a couple of weeks, and some 4000 or so receipts were still coming in in ones and twos when I retired several months later, which didn't say much for the diligence with which some users checked their emails.

    If nothing else it provided some innocent amusement for the IT personnel when I recounted the tale during one of the <very senior person's> Royal Progresses round his empire. On the plus side he was quite complimentary about the original email, and was as amused as everyone else about my self - inflicted misfortune...

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Not quite the same, or the same scale, but...

      "during one of the <very senior person's> Royal Progresses round his empire."

      I've been through a number of those event. The disruption they caused. All work stopped. Clear the benches so we could stand the information boards on them. Thank goodness we lost them in the fire - the boards that is; we lost the benches as well but those were replaced.

      1. Commswonk

        Re: Not quite the same, or the same scale, but...

        I've been through a number of those event. The disruption they caused. All work stopped.

        Fortunately he wasn't that type of <very senior person>; "standing on ceremony" wasn't required. He was very much a "JFDI" type, which suited me / us quite well.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A new acronym?

    UDOS - Unintentional Denial Of Service

    or Uninformed Dimble Obliterates System

    Please choose

  20. bombastic bob Silver badge

    OMFG, usage of the 'singular "they"' - ew

    Sorry I have to play grammarian fascist on THIS one:

    "had understandably turned their mobile phone off"

    it's either 'had understandably turned their mobile PHONES off' (referring to multiple people), or 'had understandably turned HIS mobile phone off' (for a single person whose actual sex is unknown, use of the MALE pronoun 'his' would be correct).

    post edit: or it could've been a 'typoe'

    1. calmeilles

      Re: OMFG, usage of the 'singular "they"' - ew

      If it was good enough for Caxton it might be time to drag yourself into the 15th Century.

      Page 39 line 3

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: OMFG, usage of the 'singular "they"' - ew

      Bollocks. It's a perfectly acceptable and long established usage. It was nuppits who tried to rewrite English grammatical rules based on those of a different language who introduced the idea that it isn't. If thou thinkest it wrong then please explain why the plural version of second person pronoun and verb is now almost invariably used for the singular.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Add read receipts.

    According to the Beeb, someone replied all and also asked for a read receipt.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not just a Facilator

    They weren't just an ICT delivery facilitator.... they were a senior associate ICT delivery facilitator. I have never known an organisation like SE CSU with so many meaningless job titles.

  23. Terry 6 Silver badge

    A special place in Hell...

    For the idiots who always use "reply all". There are plenty of these, they don't seem to get the idea that you can just use "reply". And they can be joined by the ones who seem to assume that if an email is 1-to-many their reply also needs to be 1-to-many. The common example of this is the email that asks all an "if " question, as in "If any of you can help with x please email me.." and there well be then a flood of "reply all" emails from people who don't need to answer at all, because they can't help, saying that they can't help; which can be annoying enough even if there are only a dozen or so on the original list.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: A special place in Hell...

      For the idiots who always use "reply all".

      There are certain work environments where employees feel the need to document all interactions, no matter how trivial. I've witnessed conversations where one person sitting at a desk next to another will ask for details by email instead of just discussing it. These are the sort of people who default to Reply-All every single time. If something was said in an email and they need to reply, they *want* everyone in the chain to see their reply.

      It's arse covering, Highly prevalent in local government and national govt. departments so I'd not be surprised at all that the NHS was the same. It happens in the private sector too, but seems a little less prevalent there. It seems to be indicative of a toxic work environment.

    2. Robert Baker

      Re: A special place in Hell...

      "The common example of this is the email that asks all an "if " question, as in "If any of you can help with x please email me.." and there well be then a flood of "reply all" emails from people who don't need to answer at all, because they can't help, saying that they can't help"

      Amazon Marketplace has a feature whereby anyone can ask a question about a product, and Amazon then email those who have purchased the product, asking if they can answer the question; but the dumb and poorly-thought-out aspect of this is, that there is also an "I don't know" button. I have always felt the latter to be pointless, since any moderately intelligent person can infer that I don't know the answer from the fact that I don't give one.

      To my mind, the only earthly use of this feature is that if someone asks a question about a Pink Floyd product, the "I don't know" option could be replaced with "I don't know, I was really drunk at the time".

      1. kain preacher

        Re: A special place in Hell...

        "The common example of this is the email that asks all an "if " question, as in "If any of you can help with x please email me.." and there well be then a flood of "reply all" emails from people who don't need to answer at all, because they can't help, saying that they can't help"

        I had manger ask the group if any one had skill X. Since I did not have skill X I did not respond. She got bent out of shape that I did not respond I did not have skill X. That's why you have people responding when they should not.

  24. gh4662

    Mobile data bill

    I hope the NHS mobile data deal is a good one when staff sync their phones

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It did not need "reply all"

    That is the thing. Even just a single reply to CroydonSurgeries rather than "reply all" would continue the madness. There were a few hitting "reply all" telling people not to "reply all". It was still getting stuff when I left an hour ago.Gets Croydon on the map I suppose. Someone's going to be working a lot later than I tonight, poor buggers.

    1. Richard 26

      Re: It did not need "reply all"

      "Gets Croydon on the map I suppose."

      Sadly, Croydon is already on the map at the moment.

      1. Robert Baker

        Re: It did not need "reply all"

        "Sadly, Croydon is already on the map at the moment."

        ...until a certain US President-Elect, who shall remain nameless, gets access to the nuke button? ;-)

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Office 365 Bcc copies addresses to everyone?

    "asking you why you didn't use the Bcc field and why everyone now has their email address,"

    When I had transferred my email to Namesco Exchange Office 365 a few months ago - I sent out an email to several contacts to inform them that my email was up again. I used Bcc as a matter of habit.

    Imagine my surprise when one of them replied saying that the email contained ALL the recipients' email addresses. I did a test using a message to my different domains - and sure enough Bcc via Office 365 was showing all the addresses to each recipient.

    Today I discovered that Office 365 had also automatically invoked something it called "de-cluttering". Basically it decided that any emails I had read - then immediately deleted - were a sign of a "clutter" email. Thereafter it silently put new instances in an IMAP "clutter" folder rather than my "new mail" folder. That clutter folder now contained most of my eBay search or watched item monitoring emails plus a few order confirmations for several months. It took a while to find how to switch it off.

    While finding the option I discovered several messages in the Admin control panel telling me that a wonderful replacement for "clutter" will be "in focus" to automatically prioritise my emails - to be rolled out this month. The messages had never been sent as emails to my POP3 folders.

    Makes me want to go back to rolling my own domains and POP3 servers.

    1. Martin an gof Silver badge

      Re: Office 365 Bcc copies addresses to everyone?

      Bcc via Office 365 was showing all the addresses to each recipient.

      That is unforgiveable, a security risk and probably explains some of the spam I've been getting to my domain recently; I, too, use Bcc when possible / appropriate. Thanks for that nugget.


  27. Infi 1

    'Short' delay?

    "Some users have experienced a short delay in the NHS mail system this morning. Action has been taken to resolve this issue."

    By short delay, they mean the entire day that nobody in the office could access their emails.

    Grr @ stupid admin that test sent to all, and even more grr @ pillocks that think 'reply to all' is a good idea because they're soooo important they feel the rest of the NHS absolutely MUST know how irritated they are at receiving an email that says 'test'.

    1. Captain DaFt

      Re: 'Short' delay?

      "pillocks that think 'reply to all' is a good idea because they're soooo important they feel the rest of the NHS absolutely MUST know how irritated they are at receiving an email that says 'test'."

      "Test" as the message was (and is) a bad idea for testing emails.

      Should have used "Only idiots reply to this message."

  28. Rabbit80

    Bedlam DL3

    This has happened to Microsoft themselves before.. how come they haven't found a way to detect it and stop it in Exchange?

  29. Scott 26
    Paris Hilton

    A colleague did something similar, but only to 3,000 external email addresses (from a address), but he had the added bonus of instead of "test", he typed "testes"

    damn, no ball icon.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Anyone remember "me too"

    Short story: Happened at MS in the 90s - one idiot sent to all, another replied all to be removed from dlist, every other muppet then said "me too" and replied to all. Chaos ensued - tee shirts celebrating "me too" we're worn...


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