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Malware infection problems at NHS hospitals are a more serious problem than isolated reports of infestation might suggest, according to an investigation by More4 News.

Last November an infection by the MyTob worm created huge administrative headaches at three London hospitals - Barts, the Royal London and the London Chest Hospital - that are part of the same NHS Trust. The infection forced the hospitals to briefly reroute ambulances and disrupted hospital administration while the infection was being contained. Some medical staff had to resort to pen and paper backup systems.

A subsequent inquiry blamed a failure to follow basic information security procedures for the infection.

Other incidents include infection by PCs at a Sheffield hospital with the infamous Conficker worm, as first reported by El Reg. Worse still it's now emerged that these two incidents are far from isolated cases, but are instead symptomatic of wider information security shortcomings across the NHS.

The issue is of particular concern because it arises at a time when the NHS is rolling out an £13bn electronic patient records system that will place greater reliance on IT systems in delivering patient care.

More4 News polled every NHS trust in England for information on whether they experienced a computer virus infection over the last financial year. The survey revealed that 8,000 computer viruses had infected NHS computers over the survey period and, more significantly, recorded 12 incidents where clinical departments had been hit. Three in four trusts responded to the survey.

The trusts obliged to deal with malware infections include Basingstoke & North Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Poole, Bradford Teaching Hospitals and Leeds Teaching Hospitals. The impact of viral infections varied.

In Newcastle, for example, a malware infection left staff unable to use administrative systems and resulted in a three week appointments backlog. A hundred admin workers were prevented from using their computers at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells following a separate infection. By contrast, an infection at West Middlesex Trust only affected a single dictaphone, More4 News reports.

It adds that, in many cases, malware infection occurred because anti-virus systems were either disabled or not properly updated. ®

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