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Concern for doctor morale in wake of cyberattack

The RCPI’s Director of Health and Wellbeing has said that for many doctors the recent cyberattack on the HSE has felt like “the last straw on top of a long winter”.

The cyberattack occurred at a time when healthcare professionals had begun to be hopeful of emerging from the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Prof Gaye Cunnane.

In a statement to the Medical Independent (MI), Prof Cunnane said over the last few months, the health service has been in ‘catch-up’ mode, “trying to get on top of waiting lists that grew longer during the lockdowns, so an extra crisis was certainly not welcome at this time.”

“Hospitals throughout the state have been affected differently – some, including St James’s were able to maintain their electronic patient record and lab systems, but not radiology as this is connected to a national system,” according to Prof Cunnane.

“The impact on other institutions has been much more devastating with no access to blood or scan results, or any electronic records. This has made it extremely difficult to run clinics and procedure lists. Since the cyberattack, there has been no external internet availability in any hospital which means that digital meeting platforms like Zoom, an essential part of team communication in this pandemic, have also not been possible.”

However, Prof Cunnane said the Covid-19 pandemic and cyberattack has highlighted the resilience of healthcare workers.

“We are all motivated to do our very best by patients, and no catastrophic event will ever change that.”

IHCA Vice President and Consultant Paediatric Radiologist, Children’s Health Ireland at Temple Street, Dr Gabrielle Colleran described delivering healthcare following the cyberattack as “driving a car in a storm with no lights or windshield wipers or seatbelts on a narrow windy road”.

“We will be recovering, reconciling and repairing the damage for months,” Dr Colleran told MI. “And for staff morale it is another cruel blow after the impact of the pandemic. Staff are just exhausted and many feel broken. We want to look with hope to the future and to addressing capacity deficits but we keep getting kick after kick.”

The Irish Association of Emergency Medicine recently stated that while Ireland’s 28 emergency departments (EDs) and 11 injury units remain open, EDs in the majority of HSE hospitals (statutory rather than voluntary hospitals) continue to be “very seriously impacted by the ransomware cyberattack on the HSE”.

“As people are aware, this attack resulted in the complete shutdown of all ICT systems used in the public hospital system with many of the systems being damaged in the attack,” the Association outlined in a statement on 3 June..

“They have had to be rebuilt and while some services have been partially restored, there continue to be major deficits in basic ICT provision which will continue to greatly impact on patient care and are an understandable cause of intense frustration to patients and clinical staff alike.

“As we near the end of the third week of impact, the public needs to understand that this issue continues to affect their care and ED and other hospital services are very far from returning to normal.

“In the main, the key issues noted in our press release of 18 May still apply. We are asking the public therefore to note that the advice offered then that only those with a need for emergency treatment should attend an ED is still relevant.”

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