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NHS faces mass IT systems failure following ransomware attack

Neil Merrett Published 12 May 2017

Multiple hospitals and GP surgeries in England hit by simultaneous cyber attack locking staff out of systems; investigation underway by NHS Digital


Multiple Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), hospitals and GP surgeries in England have been impacted by a cyber attack linked to malware.

In a statement, NHS Digital confirmed that a number of NHS organisations have been affected by a ransomware attack with an work now underway to try and understand the cause and scope of disruption.

Although at an early stage of its investigation, the organisation, which is responsible for national digital and data initiatives across the NHS, said the malware variant is thought to have infected systems was known as ‘Wanna Decryptor’.

“At this stage we do not have any evidence that patient data has been accessed. We will continue to work with affected organisations to confirm this,” said an official statement on the attack.

“NHS Digital is working closely with the National Cyber Security Centre, the Department of Health and NHS England to support affected organisations, ensure patient safety is protected and to recommend appropriate mitigations.”

The organisation said the cyber attack was not thought to have specifically targeted the NHS, with a number of sectors believed to be affected.

“Our focus is on supporting organisations to manage the incident swiftly and decisively, but we will continue to communicate with NHS colleagues and will share more information as it becomes available,” said the statement.Organisations and hospital bodies across England have announced they are experiencing systems disruptions.

In a post on social media, NHS Liverpool CCG has issued a warning to patients to only contact a local GP surgery or hospital in a genuine emergency, citing serious IT problems.

London-based Barts Health NHS Trust has also experienced IT disruption and delays at its hospitals today.

“We have activated our major incident plan to make sure we can maintain the safety and welfare of patients,” said the organisation in a statement.

In having to cancel routine appointments, the trust called on members of the public where possible to use other NHS services with ambulances also being diverted elsewhere. Barts said it was also impacting some, but not all telecommunications.

“The problem is also affecting the switchboard at Newham hospital but direct line phones are working. All our staff are working hard to minimise the impact and we will post regular updates on the website,” said the statement.

Some of Barts' clinical systems were interrupted back in January by a virus that was not believed to be the result of a ransomware attack at the time.

The trust had been required at the time to take a number of its drives and services offline including its computerised pathology results function as a precaution while the virus was quarantined and investigated.

The attack was reported just a few months after Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust was forced to issue a major incident notice and cancel operations and outpatient appointments as the result of its a virus that has infiltrated systems, affecting three separate sites.

While malware and cyber attacks remain an ongoing threat for NHS bodies, the wider scope of the attack will increase pressure on protecting sensitive data and functions amidst an ongoing interoperability and paperless push in UK healthcare.

BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, said the attack highlighted the need for ensuring robust cyber security overseen and led by trained technology professionals.

The body said that as part of a recent BCS campaign to encourage greater collaboration in healthcare, strengthening defences would be a vital component of any move to more shared service provision.

“The fact that some trusts have, as a result of this attack, had to turn patients away and put services on an emergency footing shows the reliance and trust placed on information and technology,” said BCS director of policy and community David Evans.

“Unfortunately, any system can be hacked, and that is why trusts must recognise how important it is that they support IT professionals who can protect and defend against such heinous attacks. The IT profession in health and care also needs to step up and meet that challenge.”

Related articles:

Barts trust restores systems after malware attack

Chancellor sets out £1.9bn cyber security strategy update

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