The NHS is battling a cyber-attack which has disrupted patient referrals, appointment bookings and other operations, according to reports.
The health service is said to be working through its incident response processes after managed service provider Advanced first detected the malicious activity on Thursday morning.
The firm helps to run NHS 111, a phone and online-based service designed to dispense medical advice for urgent problems.
The NHS has sought to play down the seriousness of the incident, claiming that 111 is still available to patients.
“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,” noted a statement seen by The Guardian.
Health secretary, Steve Barclay, and his Scottish counterpart Humza Yousaf, echoed the same sentiments. The incident has apparently impacted services across all parts of the UK.
It has hit not only patient referrals, but also ambulances being dispatched, out-of-hours appointment bookings, and emergency prescriptions, according to the paper.
A separate report warned that family doctors could see a surge in patients due to problems with NHS 111. However, it cited Advanced boss Simon Short as saying the issue had been confined to “a small number of servers.”
Ransomware is suspected of causing the incident.
Jamie Moles, cybersecurity expert at ExtraHop, said questions need to be answered about how the threat actors breached the Advanced network.
“Are suppliers to the NHS like Advanced doing as much as they can to protect themselves and patient data – or are outsourced services a big risk to the NHS?” he added.
“The outsourcing of IT services begs the question – who is making sure these external businesses are doing everything they can to protect patient data and make sure the provision of services is resilient? Ambulances being delayed is a big red flag.”