Effectively no blood test service due to cyberattack, says Cork GP

Blood tests and X-rays which rely on IT among procedures facing major delays

Dr Mary Favier, former president of the Irish College of General Practitioners, said the impact of the cyberattack on the HSE is just about manageable at the moment but she is concerned for the future. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Dr Mary Favier, former president of the Irish College of General Practitioners, said the impact of the cyberattack on the HSE is just about manageable at the moment but she is concerned for the future. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Doctors’ capacity to offer blood tests and X-rays are among the areas that have been worst affected by the cyberattack on the HSE, according to GPs in Cork city.

Dr Mary Favier, former president of the Irish College of General Practitioners, said the impact of the cyberattack is just about manageable at the moment but she is concerned for the future.

“The biggest impact is on our ability to get blood tests – there is effectively no blood test service at the moment because all those results were given electronically and the IT system has had to be shut down,” she said.

“Similarly, you can’t organise X-rays without electronic communications with the HSE and you can’t send referrals electronically anymore, you have to revert to paper which is adding to the time it takes and is creating a delay.”

To illustrate the point, Dr Favier said that her practice at Parklands Surgery on Cork’s northside could see 100 patients a week requiring blood tests but each patient could require between five and 20 blood tests so the volume of blood tests affected is simply huge.

“If a patient who comes to you feeling unwell, looks pale, describes an altered bowel habit and you would have a high suspicion for a bowel cancer – I had one of those on Tuesday, I’ve slotted him in for bloods next Monday.

“But it now seems highly unlikely we won’t have bloods next Monday and I have to decide what to do – do I send him into the emergency department for a test even though he wouldn’t usually be an emergency department referral?”

Macroom GP, Dr John O’Riordan echoed Dr Favier’s concerns regarding diagnostics such blood tests and X-rays and pointed out that any referral to a specialist for any consultation is affected as it is usually done electronically.

“Most practices do all their referrals electronically so now we’re either storing up referrals that we can do down the line or else generating letters but we’ve been told not to post anything at the moment so everything is on hold.

“You would be hoping that within the next week or so if things can get sorted at least the backlog might be manageable but if this continues indefinitely, the backlog is increasing and doubling up on top of the regular work we do.

“The good thing is that our system is not shut down – if I ring a secretary in a hospital, they have no access to their systems because it’s shut down but I still have all your details on our practice system,” he said.

“At least we are not dealing with blank screens and we know our patients but it’s just that the interface between primary and secondary care, which in the past 10 years has become an electronic interface, is affected.

“We will get through it but the message to the public has to be ‘thanks for your understanding thus far and don’t put off anything if you are worried, ring or come in to see your GP’,” he said.

Meanwhile, Dr Nick Flynn of MyCorkGP said that in addition to the impact the the cyberattack has on patient information systems in hospitals, it could also have an impact on the running of GP practices.

“It’s affecting bloods, it’s affecting smear tests, it’s affecting referrals – we had got very comfortable with e-referrals but simple things like where we did an e-referral in the past we can’t even see that in our system,” he said.

But Dr Flynn also identified another problem – the fact practices are funded on a capitation basis under the General Medical Services scheme where practices are paid a fee per item for certain tests and procedures and if they cannot be done, it may affect cash flow.

“I think it is safe to say that on the short term over a couple of weeks this cyberattack won’t cause a funding issue for general practices but if it goes beyond two or four weeks, general practice could be at risk of cash flow problems.

“Normally, you would perform a task and get paid the next month and that’s fine but if there’s an interruption to the fee per item services and it runs on for four or six or eight weeks, it could have cash flow consequences for practices.”