Cardiology services shut down by cyber attack in NZ

Wednesday, 2 Jun 2021

Cardiac patients have been diverted from hospitals and cardiology clinics cancelled in parts of New Zealand following a cyber attack that has shut down medical services in parts of the North Island.

The IT systems of the Waikato District Health Board (DHB) were paralysed in May by a ransomware attack that locked software and blocked clinicians from accessing patient records, appointment booking systems.

In some regions, patients with myocardial infarction were diverted to other regional hospitals, as medical staff  were forced to revert to manual systems.

The Waikato Hospital said it had cancelled cardiology outpatient clinics an was urging patients to defer non-urgent medical care until the IT systems could be restored

“There is considerable pressure on the system at the moment, but staff at Waikato Hospital are working hard in unique circumstances to ensure patient safety and care remains at the forefront,” the DHB said in a statement.

According to media reports, the ransomware attack left clinicians unable to identify patients on waiting lists and  prevented services from accepting new referrals.

Doctors at the Waikato Hospital said it could be a month before system come back online, and in the meantime staff were using manual methods to try trace and contact patients who had been referred but not yet started treatment.

Oncologist Dr Chris Jackson said patients were continuing to receive treatment such as chemotherapy, albeit with limitations on access to records.

“I think it’s hard to understate just how disruptive the loss of the IT system is on a hospital. Things like access to medical records, access to scans, test results, even things like working out who’s coming in to clinic is difficult because all that is handled through the patient management system. Colleagues have described it as like walking through fog at the moment,” he told Radio New Zealand.

“What we have seen with the taking down of the entire Waikato DHB is that the level of failure is enormous and it is extraordinarily disruptive and stressful for patients and staff,” he said.

The ransomware attackers have also hacked patients records and sent copies to media outlets as part of their demands for payment. The breach is being investigated by police and the country’s security services.

In the wake of the attack, the health service said it was investigating the extent of the impact on patient and staff data, and was working with cyber security experts, police and government agencies to try reduce the risk of further attacks.

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