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London hospitals back online after PC virus infection

Two week clean-up job nears completion

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Computer systems at three London hospitals are almost back to normal two weeks after a computer virus forced staff to shut down its network.

Computers at St Bartholomew's (Barts), the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel and the London Chest Hospital in Bethnal Green were taken offline on Tuesday 18 November following infection by the Mytob worm the preceding day. The hospitals collectively make up the Barts and the London NHS Trust.

Restoring key administrative systems and email access to key systems took the best part of three days, while the clean up operation has taken longer still.

In an updated statement, posted on Friday, the Trust said 97 per cent of its 5,000 computers have now been scanned and confirmed to be free of malware. The remaining PCs should be back online soon.

Infection by the MyTob worm forced the Trust to implement an established disaster recovery plan that effectively put its PCs into quarantine. Medical work at the hospitals went on almost as normal. Doctors and lab staff had to go back to pen and paper systems in some cases, and ambulances were temporarily diverted for a short time during the first day of the incident.

A "very small" number of non-urgent operations postponed as a result of the infection have since been rescheduled, the hospital trust said. Aside from a backlog of admin work that seems like the worst of the problem.

The cause of the infection remains subject to investigation. In the meantime Trust staff are keen to dispel rumours that the shutdown was the result of a targeted attack, or that sensitive records might have been placed at risk as a result of the breach.

"Contrary to some reports, there is no evidence to suggest that the Trust was targeted as part of a malicious attack and there has been no unauthorised access to patient information," the trust said. "An investigation into how the computer system became infected is ongoing."

The disruption of hospitals as a result of viral infection is rare but not without precedent. Infection by botnet clients at a Seattle Hospital two years ago is one of the very few other examples of malware infection affecting medical facilities. ®

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