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Cyberattack could lead to burnout of lab staff – MLSA

Concern has been expressed that pressure placed on hospital laboratory specialists following the HSE cyberattack could lead to staff burnout. 

According to Kevin O’Boyle, senior medical scientist and chairperson of the Medical Laboratory Scientists Association (MLSA), if the problem persists for much longer it will be begin to affect the mental and physical health of laboratory staff. 

“We’ll survive for a week or two but people will start to burnout if it goes on any longer than that, particularly after the year we’ve had,” he told the Medical Independent (MI).

“It’s not sustainable. The more people we have on at night the less we have in during the day and everything is very slow during the day,” he said, outlining that since the attack more staff were rostered to work in labs. 

As time goes, he added, the definition of what is clinically urgent begins to “get blurred”.

“While everybody is patient at the moment normal routine care will become more urgent soon and we will feel more pressure to do more coming for outpatient clinics and GPs.”

The attack, which has left hospitals without access to electronic systems comes on the back of a significant recruitment and retention problem within the profession.

Furthermore, the pandemic has placed huge pressure on hospital laboratory departments due to increased testing demands. 

Laboratory staff are now “working in the dark” and have adopted slower, manual processes to help keep laboratories functioning. 

The impact on staff and patients has been enormous, as hospital labs play a crucial role in diagnosis, patient management and monitoring therapy. 

“We are manually entering the patient details and what tests to do and printing off the results on bits of paper. We’ve had to organise new systems with runners bringing the reports to the appropriate wards. Normally they would be able to look up results at ward level but that’s not available now,” said Mr O’Boyle. 

The lack of access to patient management systems and patient medical histories represents a major drawback for laboratory specialists, he added.  

“Some of the test results we generate would not distinguish between an acute and a chronic illness. For example an acute kidney injury will look the same as chronic renal failure. The acute kidney injury is a serious clinical situation and requires swift action whereas chronic renal failure is a chronic condition and is less urgent. For an acute kidney injury we would always phone the requesting clinician immediately with the result but now we’re looking at results and not knowing if that’s the case or not. We’re trying to open communication lines with all requesters saying this could be new or already known.”

“We hope there will be a patient file with notes but sitting in a lab we won’t know that so we have to treat everything as if it’s a brand new and an emergency situation.”

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