The NHS Appraisal Toolkit has been taken offline for almost a month following concerns about its vulnerability to hackers.

The toolkit, which was established nine years ago, was taken down at 4pm on Tuesday afternoon after “routine testing” showed that certain aspects are “not sufficiently robust to withstand modern day hacking.”

In a statement the Department of Health said: “Ministers have immediately instructed that the website is taken offline until the supplier, SCHIM, can address these potential vulnerabilities.”

The DH said that around 27,000 active users of the service will have annual appraisals planned during the period that the system will be suspended.

It has assured users that those who have already entered appraisal documentation into the ATK website will have it securely stored in the ATK database and will be able to access it when the site has been reinstated.

The statement added: “However, after consulting with the BMA and RCGP, there was a shared concern to ensure that any level of security risk was dealt with a robustly and as quickly as possible.”

The DH has been quick to highlight that there is “no evidence” of any security breach or loss of data.

In 2007, the Medical Training Application Service website came under intense criticism and was part of a DH investigation after an undercover reporter found that the private details of over 1,000 junior doctor applicants were available to view on the website.

The statement concluded: “Given the importance of preserving confidentiality of staff and patient information, it is not acceptable to take any risks.

“The Department of Health is working closely with the supplier to ensure that the service is resumed as soon as possible and apologies for any inconvenience this may cause doctors in the meantime.”

According to information on the website, the service is expected to be resumed by Wednesday 3 March 2010.

Link: NHS Appraisal Toolkit