Republic of Ireland news

Republic's health service shuts down IT systems after ransomware attack

Health Service Executive (HSE) chief Paul Reid
James Ward and David Young, PA

The Republic of Ireland’s health service has been forced to shut down its IT systems after being hit by a “significant ransomware attack”.

The attack was discovered overnight and has affected all of the HSE’s national and local systems, chief executive Paul Reid said.

The HSE said on Twitter that it had temporarily shut down its systems as a “precaution”.

Systems for GP and close contact Covid-19 test referrals are among the services affected.

The online system for making child protection referrals to the child and family agency, Tusla, is also down.

The Master of Dublin’s Rotunda Hospital, Professor Fergal Malone, asked women not to attend appointments scheduled for today, unless they are over 36 weeks pregnant, or in an emergency.

Mr Reid said people with outpatient appointments in other hospitals should still attend “unless and until” they hear otherwise from the HSE.

In addition, the Covid-19 vaccination programme has not been affected and people are urged to attend and book appointments as normal.

Mr Reid said: “We have been the subject of a very significant, major ransomware attack.

“It’s a very sophisticated attack. It is impacting all of our national and local systems that would be involved in all of our core services.

“We did become aware of it during the night and have been acting on it straight away. The immediate priority is obviously to contain this.”

Mr Reid told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland the health service was hit by a “human operated ransomware attack”, where hackers gain access to data and then seek a ransom for it.

He said no ransom demands have yet been received.

The HSE has shut down many of its major systems as a precautionary measure and is being supported by national cyber security teams, including Gardai, the defence forces and third party support teams.

“As the morning progresses we’ll get greater clarity on the issue and greater clarity of the impacts and greater clarity of next steps we are taking,” Mr Reid added.

He said the vaccination programme is unaffected.

“I do want to reassure everybody this morning that the vaccination programme continues. It’s not impacted,” he said. “So everybody should still come forward.”

He added that life-saving equipment, such as that used in intensive care units, has also not been affected.

“This is more or less information technology systems and transferring information across networks,” he said.

The Rotunda’s Prof Malone said: “There’s no problems for patient safety. But, as a precaution, we’re asking all patients who have appointments today to not attend the hospital unless it’s an emergency, or unless they’re 36 weeks pregnant or over.

“All equipment is all absolutely operational and fine. Computers logging into electronic healthcare records is the issue, and the ability to access patient demographics, things like that – computer-based systems.

“They’ve all been taken offline as a precaution. We have systems in place to revert back to what you might call old=fashioned paper-based record-keeping.

“But, as you can imagine, when a new patient arrives at the front door of the hospital, traditionally you type in her name into a computer and get all of her details. That can’t happen.

“So we have to do that by paper, as patients come through the front door, (so it) will be much slower than normal.”

The National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street also warned of “significant disruption” due to the attack.

It said in a tweet: “Due to a major IT issue, there will be significant disruption to all our services today. If you have an appointment/need to come to the hospital, please come as normal. We ask that you please bear with us.”

In a tweet, the HSE confirmed its systems for GP and close contact Covid-19 tests referrals were down.

“GPs are to advise patients to attend any walk-in site if they need testing,” the HSE tweeted.

“Priority will be given to symptomatic and close contacts at open walk-ins.”

Liz Canavan, assistant secretary general at the Department of the Taoiseach, said: “Tusla systems are also currently not operating and this includes email, internal systems and the portal through which child protection referrals are made.

“Again, this measure is for security reasons, as the agency is hosted on the HSE ICT network.

“Any person wishing to make a referral about a child can do so by contacting their local Tusla office in their area.”

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