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Cyberattack increases risk of delayed diagnoses and errors- Dr Henry

The HSE cyberattack has increased the risk of delayed diagnoses, delayed treatments and errors by clinicians treating patients, according to HSE Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry. 

Dr Henry, in an email issued to GPs by the IMO and ICGP on behalf of the HSE Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry on Friday 21 May, outlined the major risks posed to patients following the attack and subsequent shutdown of HSE IT systems. 

“This incident has impaired access to patient records, information management systems and timely accurate diagnostic tests. As such it creates a risk to patients as a result of inadvertent clinical error, delayed diagnosis and delayed treatment.” 

Because of the serious risks to patients, a clinical and operational risk subgroup of the National Crisis Management Team has been established to address the impact on patient safety, said Dr Henry. 

The risks to patient safety are due to a lack access to clinical notes, reduced GP access to diagnostic and radiology tests, lost results and delayed treatment in the absence of IT support, among other issues, advised Dr Henry. 

The attack has also increased the chance of data breaches, patient “fear and frustration” around delays and increased the risk to staff “of working in a high stress environment” without IT supports, he said. 

A working group has been established to create access for GPs to laboratory tests via private providers. Details will be released to GPs early this week.

Agreement between the HSE and private healthcare facilities has been reached on a new referral method for radiology services.

Under the agreement GPs and hospitals can refer patients for CT, MRI, DEXA and X-ray to private centres to reduce the health risks to patients amid ongoing limited access to radiology services in public hospitals.   

“Under the current force majeure circumstances, the HSE is working with the provider organisations to give access for all scan types they provide to GPs and hospitals – referrals can be made to all providers listed below for any radiology modalities that they provide”, according to an update from the HSE Office of Assistant National Director, Primary Care Strategy and Planning, issued to GPs last week.   

“Normal access to the radiology service in line with the existing contracts will revert back to medical card and GP visit card patients once the emergency situation has resolved.”   

In his status update, Dr Henry thanked GPs for responding to the crisis with “professionalism and commitment”.    He urged GPs to continue to refrain to submit urgent referrals and tests only and to avoid referring patients to outpatient services until IT services were restored. 

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