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Cyber attack still causing big delays

Progress has been slow at restoring HSE IT systems which were the subject of a ransomware attack in May


Dr Karen Harris, Consultant in Emergency Medicine at SUH

Dr Karen Harris, Consultant in Emergency Medicine at SUH

Dr Karen Harris, Consultant in Emergency Medicine at SUH


Patients attending the Emergency Department, outpatient and other appointments at Sligo University Hospital are facing significant delays as the impact of the ransomware attack on the HSE IT systems continues to affect the delivery of hospital services.

Although progress has been made to get priority systems back up and running including radiology, diagnostic/laboratory and patient information systems, many of the supporting systems are still being worked on.

This means that there are many manual processes in place for example ordering X-rays and laboratory tests and also getting results back.

The hospital's email system hasn't been restored which makes communication between different areas of the hospital and outside the hospital more difficult and also much slower.

Dr Karen Harris, Consultant in Emergency Medicine said, "We want to advise patients that they will face delays when they come to the hospital. We regret these delays and are working very hard within the hospital and with HSE IT Services nationally to restore the rest of the systems we need to function efficiently.

"There are around 80 different interconnected IT systems in use at the hospital making it a complex process to restore and the workarounds in place in the meantime are slowing us down.


Sligo University Hospital

Sligo University Hospital

Sligo University Hospital

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"It is simply not an option to postpone appointments and wait until all the systems come back fully.

"Already we've had to cancel a high proportion of appointments since 14 May and it will take many weeks to catch up, particularly as services are running so slowly currently.

"Our advice to patients is to come to appointments if called and to be prepared to face delays.

"Patients attending the Emergency Department are facing extremely long delays because essential services like blood tests and diagnostic services are taking much longer than usual and this is significantly increasing turnaround times for our patients. Patients needing urgent care will be prioritised.

"We ask patients to contact their GP or GP Out Of Hours Service in the first instance if their health problem is not urgent.

"We would like to thank all our patients and their families for their support at this difficult time and apologise for the current disruptions and delays."

The HSE was forced to shut down all of its IT systems in the middle of May following the "significant" ransomware attack, which focused on accessing data stored on central servers.

The Department of Health was also hit.

The health service uses 2,000 systems and 4,500 servers and the damage means tech specialists have to rebuild a "legacy network of 30 years".

The hackers, said to be Russian based, provided a decryption key, saying that they would sell the data if a ransom of €15 million wasn't paid though the Government insists no money was ever handed over.

The HSE subsequently secured a High Court injunction to stop the illegal use of any data that may have been stolen during the ransomware attack though it remains to be seen how effctive this order will be.

Gardaí have advised that anyone who may have been contacted in relation to their data to contact them immediately.

CEO of the Saolta Hospital Group has warned that patient services will continue to feel the impact in Letterkenny, Sligo, Mayo, Roscommon, Portiuncula and Galway University Hospitals.

Tony Canavan, Saolta CEO highlighted the ongoing impact with limited outpatient and elective activity and long delays in Emergency Departments four weeks after the ransomware attack.

"It's four weeks since the cyber attack shut down our IT systems across the whole of the HSE.

"It had a really significant impact on patient care across the hospital group and resulted in the widespread cancellation of outpatient appointments, elective procedures and endoscopy appointments.

"We made some progress in the first week to ten days in returning some of our key clinical systems back to some limited functionality but we are still experiencing considerable difficulties as a result of that attack.

"What we're finding is that most of our IT systems are not communicating with each other, they're not talking to each other and they're not sharing information with each other and that has a direct impact on our ability to deliver patient care," he said.

The Emergency Departments in particular are continuing to face significant delays, and patients attending at EDs are being urged to consider other options in the first instance.

"We're also asking patients that if you're using our emergency departments in particular to give some consideration as to whether that's the most appropriate place for you to go.

"If you have a genuine emergency, come to our emergency departments in our hospitals and you will be cared for.

"However, if it's possible that you could receive appropriate care in some other setting - perhaps it's your GP or pharmacist - you should give that some consideration as well.

"All of our emergency departments are experiencing significant delays so if you're coming in be prepared for that as well."

Outpatient appointments and elective activity also remain limited as core systems continue to face issues.

The Saolta Hospital Group CEO also paid tribute to the ongoing efforts of staff, who have worked around the clock to return services and provide care to patients.

"I'm conscious that again our staff have had to adapt the way that they work in order to deal with this critical issue.

"And our staff have been excellent in finding workarounds and ways of ensuring that we continue to provide excellent patient care.

"I want to thank staff for their efforts in making that happen and I'm really conscious that you're doing that in the context of a very, very difficult year as well. So thank you," he added.