NHS 111 suffers cyber attack with staff resorting to ‘pens and paper’

NHS 111 services have been targeted by cyber hackers leaving staff “working on paper” and patients told to expect delays.

The system which allows call handlers to dispatch ambulances, book patients out-of-hours urgent appointments, or fulfill emergency prescriptions has crashed.

The firm behind the system, Advanced, confirmed on Friday night it had lost service on a number of its systems as a result of a cyber attack.

The outage had left staff “working on paper” and it was “negatively affecting” response times, according to a letter sent to London GPs on Thursday.

The Welsh Ambulance service said it was a “major outage” which had impacted the four nations. A business continuity incident has been declared.

The service told patients it could take longer for calls to be answered over the weekend.

‘There is no ETA’

Advanced’s Adstra software is used by 85 per cent of NHS 111 services and impacts 40 million patients, according to its website.

The letter sent to GPs on Thursday, seen by Pulse, an online magazine for GPs, said call handlers have been left unable to book patients directly in GP appointments and GPs have been asked to “manage calls where possible” and not direct patients to the service.

“A solution is being worked on urgently by Adastra, however, there is no ETA for this,” the letter said.

An NHS spokesman said patients are still encouraged to call 111 and they will be able to get through to staff.

Staff are trying to find work arounds to the issue, it is understood, including using internal NHS emails.

Advanced posted an update on its status page that the outage has been declared a “priority 1 incident” and deployed a “highly experienced” team, according to reports.

Until investigations are carried out, all services have been taken offline, according to the message. Other services run by Advanced have also been affected, including Carenotes, an electronic patient record system used by over 40,000 clinicians.

One source told the technology news website The Register that systems will not be back online “until Tuesday at the earliest”.

‘The protection of data is paramount’

Simon Short, chief operating officer of Advanced, said: “A security issue was identified yesterday, which resulted in loss of service on infrastructure hosting products used by our health and care customers.

“We can confirm that the incident is related to a cyber attack and as a precaution, we immediately isolated all our health and care environments. This occurred at approximately 7am on August 4, 2022. We can also confirm that this action contained the attack and no further issues have been detected.

“Early intervention from our incident response team contained this issue to a small number of servers representing two per cent of our health and care infrastructure. The protection of services and data is paramount in the actions we have and are taking.

“We continue to work with the NHS and health and care bodies as well as our technology and security partners focused on recovery of all systems over the weekend and during the early part of next week. In the meantime those NHS impacted services will continue to operate [using contingency].”

An NHS spokesman 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.”

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