Updated May 13th 2017
A cyberattack against the NHS, which has affected around 40 hospitals and GP surgeries across the country, has been used to hold organisations in up to 100 organisations around the world to ransom.
In some cases, as well as affecting IT systems and websites, the issue is also thought to have affected phone systems. It is believed that some hospitals and surgeries have also closed down their systems as a precaution, to check that their systems are not affected or at risk.
For those who are worried about how this potential cyber-attack will affect them, we advise you to keep up-to-date with developments via reputable outlets such as the NHS and UK Government’s Twitter feeds, along with the news pages of the UK’s national media. The extent of the attack and the affect it has had on patients will not become clear until the investigation has gained momentum in the coming hours. It would be wrong to comment any further until more information has been released by the NHS or the police.
NHS Incident Director, Dr Anne Rainsberry, said: "We'd like to reassure patients that if they need the NHS and it's an emergency that they should visit A&E or access emergency services in the same way as they normally would and staff will ensure they get the care they need. More widely we ask people to use the NHS wisely while we deal with this major incident which is still ongoing."
She added there are contingency plans to "keep the NHS open for business".
A statement on the NHS Digital website says that the attack has not been specifically targeted at the NHS and is affecting organisations from across a range of sectors.
It reads “At this stage we do not have any evidence that patient data has been accessed.”
The statement adds: “NHS Digital is working closely with the National Cyber Security Centre, the Department of Health and NHS England to support affected organisations and ensure patient safety is protected. Our focus is on supporting organisations to manage the incident swiftly and decisively, but we will continue to communicate with NHS colleagues and will share more information as it becomes available.”
It is thought that the attack has been perpetrated by infecting systems with 'WannaCry' ransomware, a type of malware which hackers use to encrypt computer files, accompanied by a threat that they will not be unlocked until a ransom is paid.
Ciaran Martin, Chief Executive of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), said that his organisation is working around the clock to get the affected systems back up and running in the wake of the attack, which has affected thousands of organisations and individuals in up to 100 countries.
Mr Martin told the BBC: "It's important to understand that cyber attacks can be different from other forms of crime in that their sometimes highly technical and anonymous nature means it can take some time to understand how it worked, who was behind it and what the impact is. But our commitment is we will be as open as we can be, as soon as we can be, as our investigation continues."
The tool used to spread the ransomware infection so far and wide is known as 'EternalBlue', which, it is alleged, has been stolen from the US security agency NSA and works reliably against computers running Microsoft Windows XP through Windows Server 2012.
It is understood that the perpetrators of this attack have yet to be identified.