Medical suppliers and primary care providers are encouraged to apply for a slice of £500,000 to improve their cyber security.

The initiative will cover all consultancy and certification costs for “hundreds” of the country’s healthcare firms.

Announcing the funding at London Tech Week digital infrastructure minister, Matt Warman, said: “We know there is a heightened cyber threat for healthcare businesses at the moment so we are releasing new funding to help those playing a vital role in the pandemic response to remain resilient.

“I also urge all organisations to sign up to the government’s Cyber Essentials programme which contains a number of simple steps firms can take to get the fundamentals of good cyber security in place.”

Successful firms will receive guidance and support to get accreditation from the government’s Cyber Essentials certification, including training to make sure all phones, tablets, laptops or computers are kept up-to-date; proper firewall usage to secure devices’ internet connections; and user access controls to manage employee access to services.

It comes as the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) identified a heightened cyber threat to the UK health sector during the pandemic.

In May the NCSC and the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) warned of large-scale ‘password-spraying’ campaigns against healthcare and medical research organisations.

Paul Chichester, the NCSC’s director of operations, added: “Protecting healthcare has been our top priority during the Covid-19 pandemic and we have been working hard to ensure organisations can keep themselves secure.

“While we will continue to support them, signing up to initiatives such as Cyber Essentials is an excellent way for organisations to help themselves.

“Those who have not already taken up this offer should do so – it will help ensure they have fundamental security protections in place, even in the most challenging of times.”

Those who have recently graduated from the Cyber Essentials programme include an app development firm whose products have supported Covid-19 patients and clinical teams, a not-for-profit organisation offering vital youth programmes to disadvantaged young people across the North East, and a group providing accessible health services across Yorkshire during the Covid crisis.