A CORK oncologist has warned that the cyber attack on the HSE is continuing to significantly impact cancer services, but stressed that tremendous work is under way to address the difficulties, with the Defence Forces providing support to help get systems up and running at Cork University Hospital (CUH).
Speaking to The Echo, Professor Seamus O’Reilly said the cyberattack was having an impact on current patients, on people in the community with cancer, and on catch-up initiatives to tackle the backlog of patients waiting to be seen since 2020.
He said that, for current patients, there were difficulties even in retrieving records stuck in the system following the hack. Diagnostics have been significantly hampered and radiotherapy, while back up and running, was “severely compromised for two weeks” following the attack.
“We’re trying to do our best to get people through the system as much as we can — relying on other centres to do things and using the private hospitals as much as we can,” said Prof O’Reilly.
Prof O’Reilly said the main priority for now was patient safety — making sure treatment was safe, putting systems in place for back-up, and to make sure the results that were ordered came back.
The consultant said it was not just current patients who were affected by the situation, and he was concerned about the number people in the community who had cancers that were yet to be diagnosed.
A joint committee on health — which met with representatives from the Irish Cancer Society, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association and the Irish Medical Organisation this week to discuss the impact of Covid-19 on cancer care — heard there had been a significant decline in the number of patients presenting for cancer diagnostics since the onset of the pandemic.
Prof O’Reilly said incidences of cancer rose 5% annually, but there had been a 40% reduction in emergency department presentations with advanced cancers during the pandemic. “They didn’t go away overnight,” he said.
He added that the country was trying to catch up with the backlog from 2020 when the attack hit. “The problem with the cyberattack is it has harpooned our catch-up strategy,” he said.
He moved to reassure patients that, despite the current challenges, huge efforts were under way to support and provide care to patients.
“If people are concerned that they have cancer, they should present to their GP,” he said. “We’re conscious it’s a very difficult time to be a patient, and we’ll do everything we can to accommodate them and get testing done and the appropriate diagnostics.”
Meanwhile, personnel from field communications and information services corps at Collins Barracks, Cork, and the naval service are providing assistance at CUH.
The Defence Forces have been providing on going IT support, technicians and computer incident response teams (CIRT) nationally, in order to support the HSE and contractors with re-establishing their IT network, and they are also are providing personnel from 1 Field CIS Corps, Collins Barracks Cork and the Naval Service, to assist at CUH.
“We are doing everything we can to resolve this,” said Prof O’Reilly. “The Defence Forces have been here with multiple army personnel going through the hospital at the moment doing IT services.
“Patient safety is our number one concern.”