Security forces are investigating a major cyber-attack on the NHS 111 system that has left patients struggling to get urgent 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 has been told to expect delays in calling the hotline, as NHS sources warned the disruption could drive patients to congested emergency departments over the weekend. Officials believe the outage will last until Tuesday at the earliest.
Hackers attacked Advanced, a company that provides software to 85 percent of NHS 111 services. The company’s Adastra system allows call handlers to dispatch ambulances, book urgent out-of-hours appointments and fulfill emergency regulations.
More than 1,000 care homes, which use the company’s Caresys software, have also been affected – along with mental health services across the NHS, which use the record management system.
An NHS source said: “At the moment call handling and response times are holding up, but there are concerns that that situation could change over the weekend and we could see a deterioration.
“Things that need an ambulance will be given priority.”
NHS 111 call handlers have been told to use an alternative system to send ambulances, the source added.
The National Cyber Security Center says it is working with Advanced to investigate the cause.
Cyber attacks ‘used by hostile states’
It comes after the international intelligence alliance Five Eyes — made up of Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States — warned of the risk of state-sponsored cyber-attacks coordinated from Moscow following the UK’s response to the Russian invasion. of Ukraine, targeting critical organizations including the NHS, nuclear power plants and parts of the Civil Service.
There is said to be information suggesting that hackers within the Russian government attempted “malicious cyber activities” in response to the “unprecedented economic sanctions” imposed on Moscow. All NHS trusts were warned in March to strengthen their cybersecurity systems and ensure they had backups.
Bob Seely, a Conservative MP on the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, said: “It is undoubtedly true that cyber warfare is one of the tools of modern full spectrum hybrid conflict.
“It is being used by hostile states, including Russia, and other states such as China.
“This attack could be criminal gangs acting with tacit support from the Russian state or it could be the Russian state itself.
“Since we are one of the biggest supporters of Ukraine, it won’t be really unexpected if it’s the Russians.”
The outage has left NHS 111 staff “working on paper” and is having a “negative impact” on response times, according to a letter from NHS bosses sent to GPs in London.
The letter sent to GPs, seen by Pulse, states that call handlers are unable to book patients directly for appointments and that GPs have been asked to “manage calls where possible”.
Direct booking for call handlers to other services was halted and staff have been told to try and do it over the phone or emails instead.
The Welsh Ambulance Service said the “major outage” had hit all four countries and it could take longer for 111 calls to be answered over the weekend.