CYBER ATTACK: Blackpool patients left stranded as NHS goes into meltdown

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Patients have been left stranded in hospital after a malicious cyber attack threatened to bring the health service to its knees.

The Wanna Decryptor virus – which rapidly spread through the NHS’s IT system and around the world – saw computers switched off as experts struggled to contain the powerful malware, which threatened to delete vital information unless a ransom is paid in days.

Health bosses in Blackpool have pleaded with patients to stay away from A&E and the Walk-In Centre unless absolutely necessary as medics turn to using pen and paper.

And Coun Derek Robertson, in hospital with a broken arm, said: “The doctor cleared me to leave, but then the cyber attack happened and it means I can’t be discharged because there is nothing they can do.”

Prime Minister Theresa May said it came as part of a wider international attack thought to affected up to 12 countries, but said there was no evidence to suggest patient data had been compromised.

Tech experts are now battling to fix the problem, which the NHS declared a ‘major incident’, but computers at the Walk-In Centre in Whitegate Drive, Blackpool Victoria Hospital, and at the majority GP surgeries were all taken offline, along with some telephone services.

Patients have been urged to avoid A&E, their GP and the Walk-In Centre, as well as the Same Day Health Centre in Fleetwood, ‘unless absolutely necessary’, and should instead call 111 for triage and medical advice.

Medical notes will be taken using pen and paper until IT systems are brought back online, but one councillor said the widespread system failure means he faces being kept on a hospital ward all weekend - despite being fit to leave.

Coun Derek Robertson, who represents the Waterloo ward and was in hospital after breaking his arm, said: “At 3pm the doctor cleared me to leave, but then the cyber attack happened and it means I can’t be discharged because there is nothing they can do.

“Other patients are affected as well, and we’re just being told no-one knows when we can go home.”

A spokesman for Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said patients with routine appointments should still turn up unless told otherwise, though operations and appointments were cancelled elsewhere, including at the neighbouring Chorley and Preston hospitals.

NHS Digital, which is responsible for cyber security in the health service, initially said 16 trusts had reported being affected by a ransomware attack, as many as 40 have reportedly been impacted - with some said to have powered down as a precaution.

Mrs May said: “This is not targeted at the NHS, it’s an international attack and a number of countries and organisations have been affected.”

Ransomware installs itself covertly on devices and then holds information hostage until a ransom is paid.

Screens taken over yesterday displayed the message: “Your important files are encrypted. Maybe you are busy looking for a way to recover your files, but do not waste your time.

“Nobody can recover your files without our decryption service.”

It goes on to demand $300 of the digital currency bitcoin, otherwise the files will be deleted, it said.

The malware behind the attack, which NHS Digital said was called ‘Wanna Decryptor, is relatively new, cyber security expert Aatish Pattni said.

It was last night being linked with system failures in 12 different countries, including Spain, Russia, and Ukraine.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one hospital IT worker said: “There’s nothing we can do except sit back and watch it collapse.

“It’s a goodbye to the IT systems.”

Dr Tony Naughton, a GP at The Thornton Practice, said: “Patients are still being seen and practices are open for business, but patients need to be aware that, because we can’t see their records or medicines history, if their problem can wait until the system is back online, please do so.”

The attack is now being investigated by the National Cyber Security Centre, which was set up last year to spearhead the UK’s online defences.