Restoration of health service computer systems to take ‘many weeks’ in wake of cyberattack

Complete rebuilding of HSE computer network could take several months

The Rotunda was the first site to spot the cyberattack, at 2am last Friday morning, and the first to start shutting down computers. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

The Rotunda was the first site to spot the cyberattack, at 2am last Friday morning, and the first to start shutting down computers. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

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

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.

The complete rebuilding of its computer network could take several months, according to sources.

With major disruption set to continue, the HSE said many emergency departments were very busy and patients requiring non-urgent care could expect significant delays. Registration of births and deaths has also been hit, as details cannot be submitted by email.

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

Essential services

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

In contrast, the main Dublin hospitals appear to be relatively unaffected. St Vincent’s, the Mater and St James’s all said no patient appointments had been cancelled, while the Mater said all services would be fully operational on Wednesday.

The HSE said progress has been made in rebuilding the national system 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.”

Many medical files have not been compromised, according to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, citing experts advising the HSE. He said progress was being made and extensive back-ups were believed to be in place.

The HSE has said all staff who are due to receive their wages this week will be paid. However, it suggested that potentially there could be “variations” between the amounts some staff may have been scheduled to be receive and the sums they actually are paid. “Any such issues will be rectified in the coming weeks,” it said.

Return to normal

On Wednesday, the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin is due to become the first to return to normal services for many patients following the cyberattack.

The hospital says it will return “earlier than expected” to a full maternity and paediatric service. Some gynaecology services will be restored this week, but clinics and appointments that rely on lab and radiology services will not.

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

Its master, Prof Fergal Malone, said this made it more vulnerable to attack. “Because of that, though, we had contingency plans, which we were able to dust off. Our team of staff converted the hospital back to paper, and people took to it like a duck to water.”

The Rotunda was the first site to spot the cyberattack, at 2am last Friday morning, and the first to start shutting down computers. Along with other hospitals, it won’t be able to restart its computer until HSE IT staff dealing with the cyberattack give clearance.