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Significant patient risk remains with cyberattack- Dr Henry

Significant risks to patients remain in healthcare settings more than four weeks following the ransomware attack on HSE IT systems, according to the HSE Chief Clinical Officer. 

In a memo to staff on 11 June, Dr Colm Henry said that while recovery was “well established” and activity levels had increased in facilities, serious risks of patient harm remained due to “patchy and inconsistent” systems recovery. 

On 14 May HSE systems were shutdown in a major blow to patient care following a sophisticated attack on its IT systems. Since then work has been ongoing to restore networks. 

Dr Henry remarked on the “escalating concern and frustration” among clinicians amid attempts to reboot systems, but said restoration was not “simply a matter of releasing a firewall”. 

“Systems are being searched, cleansed and in many cases rebuilt. Some systems have been destroyed beyond repair. ICT restoration is prioritised based on risk and clinical need and proceeding at the fastest pace possible,” said Dr Henry. 

“ICT and clinical communication systems fall short of what is required to work safely deliver care at an acceptable level of risk,” he added. 

Scheduled care has resumed but recovery in community services has been slow, he said, adding that this represented a “burden on elements of the care pathway”. 

As the HSE struggles to maintain patient care, Dr Henry noted that attendances at emergency departments (EDs) had reached record levels for the time of year in many units. 

“Radiology and laboratory services ability to resume activity remains limited while they upload investigations undertaken during the cyberattack, authenticate reports, and issue addendums or results. Overall operational capacity will remain restricted until full connectivity is restored. 

“Advice to GPs has issued and is updated weekly. Outward HealthLink communication to GPs has been restored. Arrangements are in place to enable GPs to order a limited suite of laboratory tests from private laboratories. This is a temporary measure to while systems recover in the hospital laboratories that normally provide service to GPs.”

IMO GP Committee Chairman Dr Denis MacCauley said that Healthmail, an IT communication link between GPs and hospitals, was now almost fully restored. 

Last week GPs resumed the submission of referrals for Covid-19 testing after a temporary pause following the cyber attack. 

On the matter of Covid-19 vaccines, Dr MacCauley said that GPs were currently finishing administration to vulnerable patients. 

More than 500 GPs have opted to continue giving vaccines to non-vulnerable patients on the basis of age in the coming months. 

But Dr MacCauley said that it was yet unclear how much vaccine stocks these GPs would receive. He added that GPs would most likely have a role in administering Covid-19 vaccine boosters to patients later this year. 

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