NHS data encryption like ‘700 new customers’ for McAfee

The NHS has revealed details of the data encryption deal it has with McAfee, and explained the problems that have beset the partnership because of its size.

Mark Ferrar, director of infrastructure for the technology office at NHS Connecting for Health, was speaking at the Gartner IT summit held in London. He outlined the reasons why the NHS were looking for a data encryption solution, and also revealed some of the problems that McAfee had been dealing with on such a large scale project.

Ferrar said that McAfee had won out in a close run bidding process, but that the complexity of the NHS had caused some problems once McAfee took on the job of providing its encryption products to the whole enterprise.

The job of encrypting data for the NHS was described as being like "700 new customers", with around 700,000 PCs and around 800,000 computer users that McAfee had to equip in England alone.

"It is quite a challenge," said Ferrar. "But we make no apologies for that. They are all pressing the doorbell saying they need help, how it does this and how do we configure it like this."

McAfee also had challenges with the fact that the NHS was not a uniform infrastructure. It has many organisations with different deployment challenges. There were also the particular challenges of IT in healthcare.

"Organisations have different priorities on the top of their lists," he said. "Like deploying the national programme for IT systems, deploying their own systems or upgrading their patient administration or GP systems. Whatever it happened to be, it was there before this [McAfee's data encryption] came along."

Another problem that the NHS had was the likely proliferation of different mobile devices inside such a large organisation. When asked the question about why one standard device was not used for all the doctors and staff, he said that there was a problem because there was a huge amount of choice - especially for mobile phones.

Ferrar said: "If you've spent a bit of time arguing with clinicians you'll find that they are deeply informed and opinionated about what will work for them. That is no bad thing, but that does mean getting a single opinion will never be popular."

For more on the encryption project, click here.