Cyberattack: Rotunda Hospital returns to full service earlier than expected

Restoration of computer systems to take ‘many weeks’ following cyberattack, says HSE

The cyberattack is continuing to have a particularly serious impact on radiation oncology. File photograph: iStock

The cyberattack is continuing to have a particularly serious impact on radiation oncology. File photograph: iStock

 

The Rotunda Hospital in Dublin has said it will be able to return “earlier than expected” to a full maternity and paediatric service from Wednesday following the cyberattack on the HSE’s computers.

The hospital says some gynaecology services will be restored this week, but clinics and appointments that rely on lab and radiology services will not be going ahead this week.

The Rotunda, the first Irish maternity hospital to be digitised, says the cyberattack had a severe impact due to its use of an electronic patient record.

Earlier Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly told RTÉ radio’s News at One that progress was being made in priority areas and that many important services were running, the ambulance service was operating, contact tracing was running and the vaccine programme was running “full speed ahead”.

Some progress was being made in radiation and oncology services he said, but it would take weeks to rebuild the technology network. Over the weekend tech teams had rebuilt the base layer of the computer network.

“There is some good news, progress is being made in certain priority areas.”

The restoration of computer systems in the health service will take “many weeks” following last week’s cyberattack, according to the Health Service Executive (HSE).

While some IT systems in voluntary hospitals could return this week, it will take “several weeks” before systems in other, HSE-run hospitals return, it said.

With major disruptions set to continue, the HSE says many emergency departments are very busy and patients requiring non-urgent care can expect significant delays.

The cyberattack is continuing to have a particularly serious impact on radiation oncology, because medical staff are unable to access details individual treatment plans. Essential services, such as blood tests and diagnostic services are taking much longer to operate than usual, the HSE says in its latest update.

Hospitals and other services have been asked to plan for operating essential services “within contingency arrangements” for the next two weeks, it says.

The HSE says progress has been made in rebuilding the national integrated medical imaging system (NIMIS) used to store CT scans, X-rays and MRI scans. Staff in cancer centres are working to find interim solutions for the problems experienced in radiation oncology.

“It is clear that data on some servers has been encrypted but the full extent of this remains unknown at this point,” the HSE said.

“While we believe we will have lost some details of recent clinical activity we anticipate that we will recover older patient records.

“Some IT systems or parts of the IT system in voluntary hospitals could return this week. However, for other hospitals we are looking at a longer period, in some cases several weeks before their systems return.”

Dr Henry told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland: “So much of modern medicine was reliant on technology, particularly radiology and diagnostics.”

“We were left with no option but to close down the system” to protect the 2,000 patient-facing devices and 80,000 devices in the HSE, he explained.

All clinical teams were being urged to order the absolute minimum of such services unless it was an emergency. The priority for the HSE was to re-establish the clinical system as quickly as possible.

The voluntary hospitals, which operate using a separate system, were being utilised for key services, he said.

Earlier on Newstalk Breakfast, emergency medicine consultant at Sligo University Hospital, Dr Fergal Hickey, said that they were working with one hand tied behind their back as they had no access to patients’ previous information or scans. “We are doing this partly blind.”

Dr Henry warned that the re-establishment of the service could take “a considerable period of time” and the disruption to the system could continue for the coming weeks.

Dr Gabrielle Colleran, a consultant paediatric radiologist, said the impact on patients “cannot be overstated”.

Dr Colleran, who is also vice-president of the Irish Hospital Consultant Association told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show, that there was no comparison between the situation faced by radiology services now and throughout the pandemic.

“This is so much worse. There really is no comparison. At least during Covid we could still provide safe care to people.

“In the current situation, where we don’t have access to prior imaging, prior reports, clinical information, and we’re relying on verbally contacting people, it’s just so much riskier. The challenge of it cannot be overstated.”

Dr Colleran said that this was the most challenging set of circumstances she had experienced in her 19 years working in medicine.

Colleagues were manually transcribing notes to laptops which they then transferred to use in standalone software, which was “majorly risky” for patients especially those who needed blood transfusions, where access to prior results were vital for comparison.

“In radiology, we have to be able to compare to prior scans. That is a critical part of our work in looking for change, and we are locked out of systems.”