The NHS has been struck this afternoon by a devastating, nationwide cyber attack – and not made the best of starts with its crisis communications.

As a result of the incident, several Trusts’ entire IT and phone systems have either gone down or been taken down as a protective measure.

Incredibly, some hospitals are asking patients “not to come to A&E”.

It’s a malicious ‘ransomeware’ attack: doctors, nurses and administrators are being faced with the computer screen shown, demanding $300 from each for access to their files. This sum will rise after a certain time, the screens say, before the files will be permanently deleted.

They can’t get hold of patient histories, medication, admission schedules and other vital records. Operations and treatments are being cancelled.

This is clearly a horrific, malicious attack intended to endanger lives.

We’ll have to see now how well the health service’s contigency measures cope: how swiftly it gets back on its feet in operational terms, and how well it handles its crisis communications.

Many Trusts are rightly using their web sites and local press to get emergency messages out to patients.

On a national level, there are press reports that an NHS spokesperson acknowledged “an issue with IT” but referred further enquiries to NHS Digital – who’ve been unable comment.

I fully appreciate how difficult the circumstances are, but that’s far from the best of starts: what the public needs to hear loud and clear is that the problem is being firmly taken in hand. It’s still early in this crisis, though, so let’s see what happens next.