'It’s far worse than Covid in terms of safety concerns': Manual systems still being used as hospitals cope with aftermath of cyber attack

'It’s far worse than Covid in terms of safety concerns': Manual systems still being used as hospitals cope with aftermath of cyber attack

Three weeks after the HSE was hit by a major cyberattack, a Cork emergency medicine consultant has warned that the situation facing emergency departments is far worse than Covid in terms of safety concerns.

Three weeks after the HSE was hit by a major cyberattack, a Cork emergency medicine consultant has warned that the situation facing emergency departments is far worse than Covid in terms of safety concerns.

On Friday, May 14, the HSE was forced to shut down its hospital and health services IT systems after they were attacked.

While significant work is under way to restore systems, many of the country’s main hospitals are still operating a manual, paper system.

Dr Conor Deasy, a consultant in emergency medicine at Cork University Hospital, said that the impact of the cyberattack has brought about significant safety concerns.

“It’s far worse than Covid in terms of safety concerns. We’re flying in the dark with our hands behind our backs.”

Dr Deasy said that the impact of the cyberattack continues to be felt acutely at the Cork hospital’s emergency department.

“It’s extremely busy,” he said, adding that patients are enduring significant wait times to be seen by a doctor.

Dr Deasy said that huge work is underway to get systems back up and running, but that this has not yet manifested on the frontline and so for now manual systems are being used instead.

He said this means that processes are “extremely slow”.

It comes at a time when the hospital’s ED is seeing even more patients than it would have prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Prof. Conor Deasy, emergency medicine. Picture Denis Minihane.
Prof. Conor Deasy, emergency medicine. Picture Denis Minihane.

Dr Deasy said ED is now seeing in the region of 240 people each day, more than double the number of patients it was seeing per day a decade ago.

On Thursday morning, 33 admitted patients were waiting for beds at the hospital’s ED and yesterday hospital management said pressures on the ED were being exacerbated by the cyber attack and some patients were experiencing long delays.

“Patient care is paramount at CUH and this situation is being treated as a priority by hospital management who have taken steps to address this issue.

“Hospital management expressed their appreciation for co-operation of the public at this challenging time for patients and staff,” CUH said in a statement.

Given the pressures being witnessed in the ED, Dr Deasy appealed to people to consider accessing other health care services in the first instance before presenting to the ED such as their GP, or local injury unit.

He appealed to anyone who is attending the ED to bring in their drug lists and any patient letter, or hospital number if they have it, as staff cannot access this information.

The situation at CUH is not unique. On Thursday, the Irish Association of Emergency Medicine (IAEM) warned that while Ireland’s 28 EDs and 11 Injury Units remain open, the EDs in the majority of HSE hospitals continue to be “very seriously” impacted by the cyberattack. 

It said that many of the ICT systems used in public hospitals have had to be rebuilt and that “while some services have been partially restored, there continue to be major deficits in basic ICT provision which will continue to greatly impact on patient care and are an understandable cause of intense frustration to patients and clinical staff alike.” 

It added: “As we near the end of the third week of impact, the public needs to understand that this issue continues to affect their care and ED and other hospital services are very far from returning to normal.

“It is important that members of the public understand how difficult the provision of care is in the current unprecedented situation and that this situation is likely to continue for some time yet. We ask for your forbearance as we try to help you as best we can. Please help us to help you by following our advice."

The IAEM said it was acutely aware that HSE ICT personnel and many others are working day and night to restore these vital services as soon as possible and said that “although we are currently struggling to provide our normal level of care, all of us at the frontline continue to appreciate their efforts.”

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