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12.05.17

Major cyber-attack leaves hospitals across England ‘in shutdown’

Up to 40 hospital Trusts all across England were hit by a massive cyber-attack on Friday.

It is believed that a type of malware, called ransomware – which locks users out of their computer unless they pay a certain amount of money – is being used to lock down hospitals in England.

The attack was part of a global offensive that targeted nearly 100 countries worldwide and caused chaos in general practices and hospitals in England. 

Mersey Care FT’s website was shut down as the Trust tweeted: “We’re sorry that phone and email communication are down at present. We will keep you updated!”

And East and North Hertfordshire FT said in a statement: “Today (Friday, 12 May 2017), the trust has experienced a major IT problem, believed to be caused by a cyber-attack.

“Immediately on discovery of the problem, the trust acted to protect its IT systems by shutting them down; it also meant that the trust’s telephone system is not able to accept incoming calls.

“To ensure that all back-up processes and procedures were put in place quickly, the trust declared a major internal incident to make sure that patients already in the trust’s hospitals continued to receive the care they need.”

A number of tweets from healthcare professionals have also confirmed the attack, with one Twitter user sharing a text conversation describing the attack as “what they show in movies”.

“We got a message saying your computers are now under their control and pay certain amount of money, and now everything is gone,” the text message read.

Many doctors have also expressed their outrage due to the effect the attack could have on patient safety.

One doctor tweeted: “Massive NHS hack cyber-attack today. Hospital in shut down. Thanks for delaying emergency patient care & endanger lives [sic].

And now the National Cyber Security Centre has tweeted that it was looking into the incident with NHS Digital and the National Crime Agency to investigate the hack.  

And now NHS Providers have responded to the hack, chief executive Chris Hopson saying: "The scale and scope of what looks to be an extensive malware attack on the NHS is not yet clear. If this is a malware attack, this is a growing problem across all industries.

“Given the potential impact, NHS trusts take this type of attack very seriously," he added. "They have detailed and well rehearsed contingency plans in place to deal with incidents of this type and these plans have worked effectively when they have been triggered on an individual trust basis in the past.

"Trusts will rally round support each other to cope with the disruption and early feedback suggests that this is already happening in this case. However, it is likely that some services will be affected, at least in the short term.

"The trusts affected will now be doing all they can to minimise the impact on patients, and to get their services back to normal as quickly as possible.”

And a spokesperson for the Patients Association said: "We should be clear that the responsibility for today’s apparently extensive attack on NHS IT systems, and for any harm that occurs to patients as a result, lies with the criminals who have perpetrated it.

"From reports so far, the attack appears to have been highly co-ordinated and aggressive, and a police investigation will no doubt be required."

But, the spokesperson also said that this kind of attack cames as no surprise.

“It has long been known that the NHS struggles with IT in multiple respects, and that this includes serious security problems. Though today’s may be the largest attack of this sort, it is not the first – yet the lessons from earlier incidents have not been learnt," they said. 

NHS England has also now reassured patients that they should go about using services as normal.

“We’d like to reassure patients that if they need the NHS and it’s an emergency that they should visit A&E  or access emergency services in the same way as they normally would and staff will ensure they get the care they need," said Dr Anne Rainsberry, NHS incident director.

"More widely we ask people to use the NHS wisely while we deal with this major incident which is still ongoing," she added. "NHS Digital are investigating the incident and across the  NHS we have tried and tested contingency plans  to ensure we are able to keep the NHS open for business.”

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