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London Hospital back online after computer virus shutdown

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Computer systems at three major London hospitals are largely back online on Friday morning, three days after a major computer virus outbreak forced staff to disconnect the network.

IT systems at St Bartholomew's (Barts), the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel and the London Chest Hospital in Bethnal Green were taken down on Tuesday following infection by the Mytob worm. The three hospitals make up the Barts and the London NHS Trust.

A spokesman for the Trust explained that email and internet access had been restored "across key areas", while the Trust continues to roll out its recovery plan, gradually restoring computer access to wards and departments. "Progress is being made and we expect systems to be fully restored in a matter of days," he said.

A serious computer virus infection at the Trust - later identified as caused by the Mytob worm - was first detected on Monday. IT support staff thought they had the malware under control but systems crashed when hospital staff logged onto systems on Tuesday, prompting managers to launch an established disaster recovery plan. External consultants have been drafted in to get systems restored.

Medical work at the three hospitals proceeded largely as normal throughout the incident. Theatres and outpatients were unaffected and the main areas of minor disruption came from a decision to temporarily divert ambulances on Tuesday morning. Lab testing and imaging was available throughout the incident, albeit with doctors obliged to use pen and paper backup systems. Administrative work was probably worst hit by the unavailability of computers.

The Trust continues to advise patients with concerns about their appointments to call on 0207 943 1335 or 0207 601 8701 (in case of dental appointments). Queries about booked transport are being fielded via the main hospital switchboard on 0207 377 7000.

The Mytob worm, traced as the root cause of the problem, contains backdoor functionality. However there's no evidence to suggest that systems hosting patient records were compromised or that the infection spread beyond the perimeters of the Trust. Managers of the Trust believe it was the victim of an inadvertent infection rather than a targeted attack.

The latest statement by the Trust on its progress in dealing with the problem, issued on Thursday afternoon, can be found here.

Previous incidents of malware disrupting the operation of hospitals are rare but not wholly unprecedented. Two years ago infection by a botnet agent disrupted the computers at a Seattle hospital, and later prompted a criminal prosecution, but that's one of the very few cases of its type on record before this week's clean-up operation in east London. ®

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