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NHS 111 crippled by major cyber attack as staff resort to ‘pen and paper’

Written by Javed Iqbal

Security services are investigating a major cyber attack on the NHS 111 system that has left patients struggling to get emergency appointments and ambulance calls.

NHS 111 staff across the country have been forced to use pens and paper after a crucial system was shut down by hackers feared to be linked to a hostile state.

The public have been told to expect delays when calling the hotline as NHS sources warned the disruption could drive patients to overburdened accident and emergency departments at the weekend. Officials believe the outage will last until Tuesday at the earliest.

Hackers targeted Advanced, a company that provides software for 85 percent of of NHS 111 services. The company’s Adastra system enables call handlers to dispatch ambulances, book emergency after-hours appointments and fill emergency prescriptions.

More than 1,000 care homes that use the company’s Caresys software have also been affected – along with mental health services across the NHS that use its records management system.

An NHS source said: “Currently call handling and response times are holding up, but there is a concern that that situation could change over the weekend and we could see a deterioration.

“Cases requiring an ambulance are given priority.”

NHS 111 call handlers have been told to use an alternative system to dispatch ambulances, the source added.

That National Cyber ​​Security Center said it is working with Advanced to investigate the cause.

Cyber ​​Attacks ‘Used by Adversary States’

It comes after the Five Eyes international intelligence alliance – made up of the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US – warned of risk of state-sponsored cyber attacks coordinated from Moscow following the UK’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, targeting critical organisations, including the NHS, nuclear power plants and parts of the civil service.

There is said to be intelligence suggesting that hackers within the Russian government sought it engage in “malicious cyber activity” in response to the “unprecedented economic sanctions” imposed on Moscow. All NHS trusts were warned in March to strengthen their cyber security systems and ensure they had back-ups in place.

Bob Seely, a Conservative MP on the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, said: “It is certainly true the cyber warfare is one of the tools of modern hybrid, full-spectrum conflict.

“It is used by conflicting statesincluding Russia and other states such as China.

“This attack could be criminal gangs acting with the tacit support of the Russian state or the could be the Russian state itself.

“Given that we are one of the biggest supporters of Ukraine, it won’t exactly be unexpected if it’s the Russians.”

The outage has left NHS 111 staff “working on paper” and “adversely” affecting response times, according to a letter from NHS bosses sent to London GPs.

The letter sent to GPs, seen by Pulse, says call handlers have been left unable to book patients directly into appointments and GPs have been told to “manage calls where possible”.

Direct bookings for call handlers for other services were closed and staff have been asked to try to make them via the phone or emails instead.

The Welsh Ambulance Service said the “major outage” had affected all four nations and that 111 calls could take longer to be answered over the weekend.

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Javed Iqbal

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