HOSPITALS in Sheffield are battling a major computer worm outbreak which could have been caused when managers turned off anti-virus security updates for all 7,000 personal computers.
The virus infected 800 personal computers at Sheffield's adults hospitals - and led to the cancellation of some non-urgent appointments.
It is believed to have struck after a computer used to check digital images before operations in the Hallamshire Hospital's medical imaging department developed a problem - and IT specialists decided to switch off anti-virus software to fix it. Hundreds of computers at the Royal Hallamshire, Northern General, Jessop Wing, Charles Clifford and Weston Park hospitals were hit by the virus which caused error messages to appear and made computers work more slowly than before.
A spokeswoman for Sheffield Teaching Hospital Trust, which manages the city's adult hospitals, said they could not be certain how the virus entered the system.
But she admitted entry could have occurred when the anti-virus software was turned off and there was a "window of opportunity" for the worm - known as the Confiker code - to enter the network.
She said a decision was taken by their team of IT specialists to turn off the anti-virus security system to fix the problem with the computer containing the digital images, so patient care would not be affected.
The trust says the problem meant six patients had non-urgent scan appointments cancelled but they were rescheduled for three days later.
The problem, which came to light in late December, is currently being fixed. Insiders at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals said they suspect many more machines could have been affected by the self-replicating Confiker code but have not been reported to IT.
But David Whitham, Informatics Director at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: "The virus has now been contained and our IT team have been working very closely with external anti virus specialists to update PCs and remove the last remnants of the virus from the network to limit the chances of a repeat infection."
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