Some health services disrupted after HSE cyber attack

hse ireland cyberattack

The ransomware attack was focused on accessing data stored on central servers.

The health body said it had taken the precaution of shutting down its systems to further protect them, and to allow it to assess the situation.

The vaccination programme has not been affected by the cyber attack and is going ahead as planned today.

There was an immediate shutdown of the HSE’s national IT system early this morning after it emerged it had been subjected to a ransomware attack overnight.

Health service providers around the country have been left to assess the impact while continuing to care for patients.

Many hospitals have described situations of being compromised without access to their electronic systems and records, and having to rely on contingency measures such as paper-based systems.

In some cases, hospitals have warned of significant disruption with routine appointments cancelled today, including maternity check-ups and scans.

With delays expected to some patient services, health providers are also warning this IT outage could pose difficulties in accessing patient results.

The HSE has said it is working to resolve this serious issue with the support of cyber security experts and gardaí.

The issue has led to Dublin’s Rotunda Hospital cancelling most outpatients visits today.

The maternity hospital said all outpatient visits are cancelled – unless expectant mothers are 36 weeks pregnant or later.

All gynaecology clinics are also cancelled today.

However, the hospital said those with any urgent concerns should attend as normal.

The National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street in Dublin has also said there will be ‘significant disruption” to its services today.

St Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin said that, while the situation was an evolving one, no patient appointments have been cancelled at this time.

Crumlin Hospital, Children’s Health Ireland (CHI), said its IT systems are compromised but it is working to adjust using risk assessment and manual paper-based processes.

Elective operations and face-to-face outpatient clinics did take place this morning but the hospital advised people to expect delays.

The HSE has apologised to patients and the public and said it would give further information as it becomes available.

HSE Chief Executive Paul Reid this morning said it was working to contain a very sophisticated human-operated ransomware attack on its IT systems.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, he said that the cyber attack is impacting all national and local systems involved in all core services.

Mr Reid said it is a very significant and serious cyber attack and the HSE has taken all precautionary measures to shut down systems to protect them.

More will be known as the day goes on in relation to impact on services, but unless patients are informed otherwise they should continue to attend appointments, other than at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin.

The HSE is working with the national security cyber team, gardaí and third-party cyber support teams.

The attack is focused on accessing data stored on central servers, Mr Reid explained.

He said it is a major incident but added that no ransom demand has been made at this stage.

The Rotunda has cancelled a number of outpatient appointments

Also speaking on Morning Ireland, Master of the Rotunda Hospital Professor Fergal Malone said they discovered during the night they were victims of the ransomware attack, which is affecting all of the hospital’s electronic systems and records.

He said he believed it has also affected other hospitals.

“We use a common system throughout the HSE in terms of registering patients and it seems that must have been the entry point or source. It means we have had to shut down all our computer systems.”

He said all patients are safe and the hospital had contingency plans in place so it can function normally using a paper-based system.

However, this would slow down the processing of patients, which is why they are looking to limit the numbers attending appointments today.

Prof Malone said lifesaving equipment is all operating fine and it is just the computers with healthcare records that have been impacted.

“We have systems in place to revert back to old fashioned based record keeping,” he said.

“Patients will come in in labour over the weekend and we will be well able to look after them.”

Prof Malone could not predict how long it will take to rectify the issue but said they will take it day-by-day.

He said a team is looking to resolve the issue.

Professor Seamus O’Reilly, oncologist at Cork University Hospital, said all of the hospital’s computers have been switched off because of the cyber attack.

He said the HSE acted quickly and its main concern is patient safety. He said it is distressing for patients who are awaiting results and “living in that zone of uncertainty”.

“There is a lot of distress in our clinics and wards today because of this.”

He said cancer care is very time dependent on technology and the hospital is anxious to go ahead with treatment. Prof O’Reilly said this cyber attack raises issues of firewalls and back-up systems, which are so important.

The systems are already pressured dealing with Covid-19 and this has added to that, he commented.

Professor Donal O’Shea, consultant endocrinologist at St Columcille’s Hospital in Dublin, said they were alerted to the cyber attack this morning, when those working remotely could log onto a meeting while anyone working in the hospital could not access their computers.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, he said it is an “unfolding situation” and he anticipates there will be clinical implications because of not being able to access computers to get results.

He described the ransomware attack as similar to traditional hijacking in some ways.

“The same decisions have to be made; do you give in o the demand and all the repercussions are the same. It is incredibly stark,” he said.

He said any time outpatient appointments are cancelled at short notice, you have to look at the people who were due to be there and if there are any individuals who might need to be contacted.

“If we had their results or in the case of maternity settings if they were particularly high risk.”

He said cancelled appointments lead to problems if they are not managed but that Covid-19 has led to improvements in dealing with unforeseen events.

There will be a “differential impact” of this cyber attack across hospital settings,he commented.

He said face to face appointments will still happen at the hospital today, but some virtual clinic appointments for obesity services have been postponed.

Anything due to happen virtually or related to electronic records will not be happening, he explained.



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