A cyber attack on the NHS has brought the service into meltdown with operations cancelled across parts of Lancashire.
Non-emergency operations have been suspended at Chorley and Preston hospitals this weekend after a virus targeted the health service network and affected systems across the country.
Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Trust, which runs Chorley and Preston hospitals, said: “Due to nationwide IT issues affecting the NHS outpatients and all planned procedures over the weekend are cancelled unless we contact you to tell you otherwise.”
It added: “Please only go to the emergency department or urgent care centre at Chorley and Preston if it is absolutely necessary.”
Theresa May said the Government is not aware of any evidence that patient records have been compromised in the attack as computers at walk-in centres, hospitals, and at GP surgeries were taken offline across the county.
The IT systems of 23 NHS organisations, including many trusts and hospitals, have been affected by the ransomware attack.
A spokesman for NHS Digital, which is responsible for cyber security in the health service, said: “At this stage we do not have any evidence that patient data has been accessed. We will continue to work with affected organisations to confirm this.
“NHS Digital is working closely with the National Cyber Security Centre, the Department of Health and NHS England to support affected organisations and to recommend appropriate mitigations.
“This attack was not specifically targeted at the NHS and is affecting organisations from across a range of sectors.
“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.”
Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Trust said outpatient appointments and all planned procedures over the weekend are cancelled unless patients are contacted and told otherwise.
“Please only go to the emergency department or urgent care centre at Chorley and Preston if it is absolutely necessary,” it said in a statement.
Morecambe Bay NHS Trust, which runs the Royal Lancaster Infirmary, tweeted: “Please do not attend A&E unless it’s an emergency.”
A spokeswoman for Blackpool Victoria Hospital pleaded for patients in the resort to only attend A&E in life-threatening emergencies, and asked for patience in other departments, which are running slower than usual.
Patients should attend weekend appointments there unless told otherwise.
A screenshot obtained by the Health Service Journal (HSJ) purported to show the pop-up that appeared on at least one of the computers affected.
It said: “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 gives a deadline of next Friday afternoon to pay.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one hospital IT worker told The Post he believed between 25 and 30 trusts have been affected.
He said: “User shared drive access is down. Emails slowly going. Non-essential PCs are being shut down and waiting times are estimated to increase.
“There’s nothing we can do except sit back and watch it collapse. The ransom message is exactly the same here, but with different bitcoin links, which is standard.
“It’s a goodbye to the IT systems.”
The National Cyber Security Centre said it was aware of a ‘cyber incident’ and was working with NHS Digital and the National Crime Agency to investigate.
The Prime Minister Theresa May said: “This is not targeted at the NHS, it’s an international attack and a number of countries and organisations have been affected.
“The National Cyber Security Centre is working closely with NHS digital to ensure that they support the organisations concerned and that they protect patient safety.
“And, we are not aware of any evidence that patient data has been compromised.
“Of course it is important that we have set up the National Cyber Security Centre and they are able to work with the NHS organisations concerned and to ensure that they are supported and patient safety is protected.”
Dr Anne Rainsberry, NHS Incident Director, added: “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.
“NHS Digital are investigating the incident and across the NHS we have tried and tested contingency plans to ensure we are able to keep the NHS open for business.”