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A new national pathology messaging service – set to save family doctors time and money – is relying on security from ViaCode, The Royal Mail’s information security business.

Pathology messaging offers a standardised way for laboratory test results to be e-mailed direct to practice computer systems, replacing slower and more costly paper reports and ending the need to re-key information. ViaCode digital certificates – a form of electronic passport – assure the privacy, authenticity and integrity of patient information.

Run by the NHS Information Authority, the pathology messaging service is the first national clinical application to use the NHSnet infrastructure. It also meets the demands of the BMA and the Royal Colleges of Pathology and General Practice for robust security, as NHSIA security infrastructure manager Linda Ellis explains.

“The issue is not just patient confidentiality, but message integrity too. When a blood sugar of two is too low and 20 too high, you can imagine the consequences of treating a patient on the basis of a path lab result which had lost or gained a zero during transmission.”

The security also had to work with the NHS’ EDIFACT messaging standard as well as existing systems at the 210 English path labs and 9,000 doctors’ practices. A formal tendering process saw ViaCode sub-contracted by the selected technology vendor Entrust, to provide and run the managed Certificate Authority (CA) service.

“For the NHS there’s no question of what our mission is. We provide healthcare. We’re not an IT specialist,” says Ellis. “It made perfect sense to outsource the security to a provider we could trust. This way we avoid the initial set-up costs of certificate technology and have no need for dedicated internal IT staff.”

Pathology messaging was also welcomed by Chichester family doctor Grant Kelly who represented the BMA on the messaging advisory committee. “I’m delighted that it’s going ahead. It conforms so well to what the patient, the doctor, and the NHS all need that everyone stands to win.”

ViaCode ( uses the world's most proven and widely-deployed public key infrastructure (PKI), operated to standards that set a new international benchmark for thoroughness and integrity. ViaCode digital certificates are valuable and credible. Issued only after rigorous proof of identity, they are instantly revocable with immediate system-wide effect.

ViaCode, a wholly owned subsidiary of Consignia, is one of Europe’s largest providers of managed certificate services with a fast-growing customer base in industry, commerce and the public sector. ViaCode encryption uses full-strength 128-bit cryptography. A secure key-backup and recovery facility means critical information, previously encrypted, is not lost in the event of a certificate being damaged or mislaid. Separate key pairs for encryption and signing mean ViaCode digital signatures are non-deniable.

A concise overview of the technology, security policies and procedures underpinning ViaCode is available on request.


Further editorial information:

Alison Ingleby – 020 7847 3391

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