There is an on-going issue with NHS Trusts’ ability to access Google, NHS Digital has confirmed. 

Digital Health News understands that when the trusts attempt to use Google they are faced with a CAPTCHA page, which they must complete to use the US search engine.

A CAPTCHA page is a security check designed to verify someone is a human, rather than a robot, online.

Earlier, a spokeswoman for NHS Digital said the trusts were being denied access due to “sheer numbers”.

She added that it was “nothing to do with a cyber-attack”, despite earlier reports suggesting the moved was motivated by concerns about a cyber-attack.

In a statement to Digital Health News, a NHS Digital spokesman said, “we are aware of the current issue concerning NHS IP addresses which occasionally results in users being directed to a simple verification form when accessing Google". 

"This would appear to be due to the high number of people using our systems and trying to access Google at peak times. We are currently in discussion with Google as to how we can help them to resolve the issue.”

The spokesperson added that the problem had been around for a "few weeks". 

A Googles spokesperson said:  "Our systems are simply checking that searches are being carried out by humans and not by robots in order to keep web users safe. Once a user has filled out the CAPTCHA, they can continue to use Google as normal."

Digital Health News understands that Google believes its systems are working correctly in this instance, with the site used to handling large volumes of traffic.

A Google help centre page says if users see a page saying “Unusual traffic from your computer network” it might be due to a computer or phone in your network sending automated traffic to Google or malware detection.

The page says that in most cases, users will see a CAPTCHA page, and once that has been entered correctly users will be able to access Google again.

NHS organisations uses N3, a private national broadband network provided by BT that allows NHS organisations to communicate securely and access national applications such as the NHS Spine.

This year, the NHS will shift to a new Health and Social Care Network, which provides NHS organisations with access to a marketplace of accreditted, secure network supplies, rather than a single service.

NHS Digital chief operating officer Rob Shaw has previously said about 0.3 % of all traffic over the NHS N3 network was malicious, which was typical of other sectors, and 60% of mail sent to NHSmail 2 was blocked.

“I’m not going to give you the numbers because they are scary,” he told the UK Health Show in September last year.

Google and the NHS have a growing, if sometime controversial, business relationship.

Last year, the tech company’s artificial intelligence off-shoot, DeepMind, partnered with Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust to develop an app to detect acute kidney injury. THe deal was criticised after it was reported that Deepmind was given access to millions of patient data, including many without acute kidney injuries.

DeepMind is also involved with research projects at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust into head and neck cancer, and at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.