Internet access and email systems were shut down yesterday at three London hospitals following an attack from an as-yet unidentified computer virus.

Managers at St Bartholemews hospital and the London NHS trust called a state of emergency following the attack, which also affected the Royal London in Whitechapel, and the London chest hospital in Bethnal Green.

Ambulances diverted

Engineers used back-up systems to keep operating theatres and outpatient clinics running. Meanwhile, ambulances were diverted to other London hospitals.

An NHS spokesman said: "There is no indication that this was a malicious attack, but engineers are still investigating where the virus came from and what it is."

NHS Smartcard abuse

The GPs' newspaper Pulse recently carried out a survey of over 300 GPs. claiming that one in six were aware of NHS staff flouting the rules and sharing smartcards, which give to access to confidential electronic medical records.

A Connecting for Health spokesperson said: "Healthcare staff should not share smartcards and if smartcards are used improperly disciplinary procedures should follow."

5% of GPs also admitted sharing their own smartcard.