HSE IT system will take ‘several weeks’ to get back up and running – Donnelly

Minister says 2,000 patient-facing systems and 80,000 machines have to be assessed

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the  priority for the HSE is patients most in need of urgent care. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the priority for the HSE is patients most in need of urgent care. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

It will take “several weeks” to get all the HSE’s IT systems back up and running after last week’s cyberattack, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said.

He told the Dáil that the HSE had to assess and recover 2,000 patient-facing systems, “each supported by infrastructure, multiple servers and devices”, amounting to approximately 80,000 machines in total.

A methodical process is under way of cleaning and restoring them and managing the risk of reinfection, he said.

He said the priority for the HSE is patients most in need of urgent care.

“In particular, every effort has been made to maintain cancer services at present, with a particular focus on urgent and time-sensitive cases.

“Unfortunately, radiotherapy services are particularly impacted, medical oncology is continuing with some delay” and plans are being developed to relocate some of these services to the private hospitals on a temporary basis.

Mr Donnelly was speaking during a debate and question-and-answer session in the Dáil on the unprecedented cyberattack on the HSE.

He said that five patient files have been put up online that were “heavily redacted” and it is not yet clear whether they are genuine files.

Fake files

Mr Donnelly said he was told in the latest briefing he had received it was the practice for hackers to download fake files. “It is not clear yet whether they were genuine files,” he said.

Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan defended the State funding after Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane asked if it was true that the annual budget of the National Cyber Security Centre was €5 million, with 25 staff, and the position of director is still not filled.

Mr Cullinane said “it can be argued we took our eye off the ball”. But Mr Ryan said that funding was closer to €7 million when staff pay is included, and it had tripled in the last budget. He said the centre has a staff of 29 compared to one part-time official 10 years ago.

The Minister also said it is likely the hackers who attacked the system “had spent a period of time” in the HSE system. He said these attacks are prepared in detail at length in advance and often “require a significant period of time when they gain access within a network and then enhance their position”.

Minister of State for eGovernment Ossian Smyth said the State was involved in a cyber “arms race”. He said that like coronavirus and the development of variants, in cyber crime “all the viruses are updating and mutating”.

Capacity review

He said a capacity review is under way, the number of IT staff working in the HSE has doubled in the last two years and would continue to increase.

Mr Donnelly said funding for IT services had doubled to €145 million last year and would increase this year to €203 million.

Outlining some of the patient difficulties, Mr Donnelly said “a significant number of outpatient appointments have been cancelled. Most community health services, such as disability, mental health, primary care and older people services are operating as normal.

“However, some delays and cancellations can be expected. This is especially the case in dental orthodontics, ophthalmology and audiology services. Any appointments that cannot go ahead will be rescheduled as soon as possible.”

Mr Ryan said the people working in IT within the healthcare system had been under extreme pressure and they had had to create entire new systems to cope with the pandemic, including the virus-testing system, and they were to be commended.