Ministers are working to coordinate a “resilience response” after a cyber-attack caused a significant outage across the NHS computer system.
The outage affected services across the system such as patient referrals, ambulances being dispatched, out-of-hours appointment bookings, and emergency prescriptions.
“I’m being regularly briefed on the incident affecting NHS 111 services across the UK,” the health secretary, Steve Barclay, said on Saturday. “NHS England has contingency plans in place in areas affected, and disruption to the service is minimal.”
The attack was first spotted at 7am on Thursday by Advanced, a firm providing digital services for NHS 111. The company’s chief operating officer told the BBC the loss of service was related to a cyber-attack and had been contained to “a small number of servers”.
The firm indicated the issue might not be fully resolved until next week, the BBC reported.
People contacting the health service on Friday were warned of delays, as the outage affected all four countries of the UK. The perpetrators are understood to be cybercriminals rather than being state-sponsored.
An NHS spokesperson said: “NHS 111 services are still available for patients who are unwell, but as ever if it is an emergency, please call 999.
“There is currently minimal disruption and the NHS will continue to monitor the situation as it works with Advanced to resolve their software system as quickly as possible – tried and tested contingency plans are in place for local areas who use this service.”
The disruption is the latest to hit the NHS as the health service faces the worst staffing crisis in its history. MPs have called for action to address critical gaps in almost every area of care as it struggles to keep up with demand.
Scotland’s health secretary, Humza Yousaf, said that while there were plans in place to mitigate the impact, there would be some level of disruption.
“Ministers are being continually briefed about [the] cyber incident affecting NHS systems across the UK,” Yousaf said. “We are working closely on a four-nations basis to coordinate our resilience response, where appropriate.”