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Cyber attack slows down investigations into Covid-19 positive cases – Dr Kelly

By Paul Mulholland - 18th May 2021

The HSE cyber attack has slowed down the complex investigation of Covid-19 positive cases as digital systems remain shut down, according to Public Health Specialist and IMO President Dr Ina Kelly. 

Speaking to the Medical Independent (MI), Dr Kelly said that the attack had reduced the speed at which analyses occur and had “cut down access to the finer details” of confirmed cases. 

Chasing results for positive cases was now “harder”, lines of communication were impeded and control around investigations had reduced following the cyber attack, said Dr Kelly. 

She explained this was because the referral system for Covid-19 test appointments was not functioning, with close contacts being advised to present for testing at walk-in centres.

This means that public health specialists have no access to information on when a person presented for an appointment or whether or not they attended in the first place. 

“This makes chasing results for people harder when you don’t know when they were tested,” she said. 

Despite these challenges, she said that in her experience people had been very proactive in attending for a test if they had been identified as a close contact of a confirmed case. 

“So I don’t think the lack of referral will be a huge problem in the short term. It [walk in centres] is an easy, flexible route for people that is acceptable,” she said. 

Meanwhile, HSE Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry has asked GPs to send urgent only samples for testing to HSE laboratories. 

In a letter to GPs on 16 May, Dr Henry advised that clinical laboratory capacity could be operating at as a little as 10 per cent of normal capacity due to the major attack on its IT systems. 

He confirmed that electronic systems for communicating test results to GPs are not functioning and advised that results of previous patient samples were unavailable. 

In instances where GPs feel it is essential bloods and other samples are submitted, he asked GPs to provide a telephone number to ensure that they can be contacted with results. 

He added: “many of the samples submitted in the days immediately before 14 May may no longer be suitable for processing when systems recover and it may be necessary to resubmit samples”. 

According to Dublin GP Dr Ray Walley, GP practices had cancelled phlebotomy services and were prioritising urgent tests only. 

He said GPs were “in the dark” on who was getting tested now. When results of positive cases are received by GPs they would make contact with patients and provide isolation and other advice, he said. But this is no longer happening as the results cannot be communicated to GPs. 

“If we hear from someone who is symptomatic we advise them to go to a centre for testing but we have no visual on if they go and when they go and what their result will be,” he said. 

He confirmed GPs were still operating vaccine clinics and seeing patients as usual. GP software systems have not be affected by the attack. 

IMO GP Committee Chairman Dr Denis MacCauley advised patients to speak to a GP for advice before presenting at walk-in centres for testing. 

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