People contacting the NHS 111 service have been warned of delays due to a major IT system failure caused by a cyber attack.
The problem affects certain services across the UK, such as the system used to refer patients to care, including dispatched ambulances, out-of-hours appointment bookings and emergency prescriptions . The perpetrators are considered cybercriminals rather than a nation state.
The National Crime Agency said it was “aware of a cyber incident” and was working with Advanced, a company that provides digital services for NHS 111. The attack happened at 7am on Thursday, a declared Advanced.
Simon Short, the company’s chief operating officer, told the BBC: “We can confirm that the incident is linked to a cyberattack and as a precaution we have immediately isolated all of our health and care environments.
“Early intervention by our incident response team limited this issue to a small number of servers representing 2% of our health and care infrastructure.”
The Welsh Ambulance Service described the outage as ‘significant’, ‘major’ and ‘far reaching’ and said it affected all four nations of the UK.
The Ambulance Service warned that the weekend will be busier than usual for NHS 111 Wales and said that although the ability to respond to calls is being ‘maximised’ by the Ambulance Service and advice from local health, “it may take longer to respond to calls and we thank the public for their patience”.
An NHS spokesperson said: ‘NHS 111 services are still available for patients who are not feeling well, but as always, if it is an emergency please call 999.
“There are currently few disruptions and the NHS will continue to monitor the situation as they work with Advanced to resolve their software system as quickly as possible – proven contingency plans are in place for local areas using this service.”
A Scottish government spokesperson said it was “working with all health boards in conjunction on a four-nation basis with the National Cyber Security Centre”. [NCSC] and the supplier to fully understand the potential impact”. He said “continuity plans” were in place.
A spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Department of Health said it was working to minimize disruption. He said: “As a precaution, to avoid any risk to other critical systems and services, access to company services from the HSC [Health and Social Care system] has been disabled, while the incident is contained.
On Thursday, industry magazine Pulse reported that NHS England had warned family doctors in London they could see increased numbers of patients being referred to them by NHS 111 due to the “significant technical issue”.
An NCSC spokesperson said it was aware of an incident affecting certain services provided by Advanced, adding: “We are working with the business to fully understand the impact, while supporting the NHS.”