Emails have been disabled at Northampton General Hospital as a precaution after a massive cyber attack hit the NHS.
Health services across England have been hit by IT failure, reports in the last few minutes have revealed.
The system shutdown is believed to have been caused by a large-scale cyber attack, which appears to be 'ransomware' - software that blocks access to a user's computer coupled with a an onscreen message demanding payment .
However, a spokeswoman for Northampton General Hospital said the trust does not appear to have been affected so far.
She said: "We have taken precautionary action that has involved disabling our emails."
Trusts across the UK have reported system failures in the last few hours.
Dr Tony Naughton, the chief clinical officer at Fylde and Wyre CCG, described the problem as "national", while East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust said it believed it had been hit by a ‘cyber attack’ and had suspended all non-urgent activity.
Tech experts are now battling to fix the problem, but computers at walk-in centres, hospitals, and at GP surgeries have been taken offline. Patients have been urged to avoid them all ‘unless absolutely necessary’, and should call 111 for triage and medical advice.
East and North Hertfordshire NHS trust, one of the those affected, said in a statement: “Today (Friday, May 12), the trust has experienced a major IT problem, believed to be caused by a cyber attack."
Trusts and hospitals in London, Blackburn, Nottingham and Cumbria have also been affected.
The NHS is under increasing attack from cyber blackmailers attempting to extort ransoms from dozens of hospitals using internet viruses which encrypt data.
Health service trusts serving millions of patients have been hit by the 'ransomware' attacks in the past 12 months, prompting concern that antiquated IT systems are leaving NHS data such as patient records vulnerable to exploitation by criminals.
The rise of ransomware was last week highlighted by Europol, the EU’s law enforcement body, as the “dominant threat” to public and private organisations across Europe as organised crime groups deploy an increasingly sophisticated arsenal of viruses.
“NHS trusts are being increasingly targeted and any loss of patient data would be a nightmare scenario. Like everyone else, they need to be applying robust controls.”
Ransomware works by implanting a piece of software, often sent disguised in an email, which then turns data on a machine or network into encrypted gobbledygook.
The senders then demand a ransom, paid in an untraceable cyber currency such as BitCoin, which averages £350 to £700 but can reach into thousands. According to one estimate, the extortion racket is worth some £300m a year.
NHS Digital, the body which oversees cybersecurity for the health service, acknowledged an increase in attacks but said that no ransom was paid in any of the “rare” serious ransomware incidents reported to it and that no data was lost. It said patient records had not been affected, adding that the NHS was one of myriad organisations being targeted by the attacks.