Hospitals across England and Scotland have been simultaneously hit by a ransomware attack, NHS Digital has confirmed.
In a statement on Friday, the organisation said the attack, believed to be caused by a malware virus, was not specifically targeted at the NHS. Prime minister Theresa May said the incident was part of a wider attack which had spread around the world and according to the BBC, up to 45 NHS organisations and GP practices had been affected.
The confirmation came after reports said staff had been locked out of their computers and emergency patients in some hospitals had to be diverted. Details of patient records and appointment times, as well as internal phone lines and emails, also became out of reach.
According to doctors who have been tweeting about the hack, a pop-up message demanding a ransom in exchange for access to their IT systems had been appearing on their screens.
Hospitals in London, Essex, Nottingham and Cumbria were among the regions affected. The East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust "declared a major internal incident" when they first encountered the issue on Friday lunchtime.
In a statement, the Trust said: "Immediately on discovery of the problem, the trust acted to protect its IT systems by shutting them down; it also meant that the trust's telephone system is not able to accept incoming calls," the Trust said. Along with several other Trusts, they were forced to postpone all non-urgent activity and asked the public not to come to A&E unless in the case of a life-threatening emergency.
One NHS IT worker who witnessed the incident told The Guardian: "A bitcoin virus pop-up message had been introduced on to the network asking users to pay $300 to be able to access their PCs. You cannot get past this screen. This followed with an internal major incident being declared and advised all trust staff to shut down all PCs in the trust and await further instructions.
"This is affecting the east of England and number of other trusts. This is the largest outage of this nature I've seen in the six years I've been employed with the NHS."
Twitter users said the attack was "unprecedented" and "heartbreaking".
NHS Digital has confirmed it is working closely with the National Cyber Security Centre "to support affected organisations and ensure patient safety is protected."