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*Dr Denis O’Keeffe. 

Frontline workers have found the impact of the cyber attack on the HSE’s IT systems to be “exhausting”.

Throughout the UL Hospitals Group, staff have had to rely on patient notes and written records as they cope with the shutting down of all IT systems across the HSE following a major ransomware attack earlier this month which has also resulted in the cancellation of all routine outpatient appointments, all routine surgeries and routine cancer reviews.

In the absence of IT systems, healthcare workers have been forced to adapt. “We’ve been relying on patient notes and written records, we print out laboratory results and then put into the notes, the same for radiology notes, they are set out by the radiologist reporting them. It is a very labour intensive process, it is like going back 40 years,” Dr. Denis O’Keeffe, Consultant Haematologist and Clinical Director of Cancer Services at University Hospital Limerick admitted.

“All the basic things that we’re used to like turning to a computer and getting the laboratory results, getting the latest X-ray, looking at past records, all of that is not possible, that is a huge challenge to us for the patients with us today and for those that come in unexpected”.

Systems have been improving this week, Dr O’Keeffe observed, “there is a hope that a significant amount of it will have turned by the end of this week, how that translates into being able to have services up and running fully again is still not clear. Our hope would be perhaps over the next two weeks but it is still not clear”.

He described the cancellation of all routine outpatient appointments, all routine surgeries and routine cancer reviews as a “huge impact”. The Limerick native added, “It is inevitable when you cancel outpatients and we’ve had to cancel them a number of times because of COVID, this crisis on top of that there will be people with conditions and cancers that will be delayed before their diagnosis. Our aim is to get things up and running as quickly as possible. We’re hoping to run extra services once we’re back up and running but it is going to be a huge challenge”.

Patients with operations cancelled as a result of the cyber attack are to be rescheduled. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy services have not been affected. “The difficult thing is the patients waiting for investigations to see what is going on”.

Staff have responded well to the crisis, Denis maintained. “It has been exhausting for all of us in different ways, in terms of morale after the initial shock of the loss of so many system there was a feel of exhaustion but the reality is that you have to deal with it and collectively from the CEO down you get into crisis mode and work around. You have to stop quite a few services to deal with this but most importantly you’ve to make sure your emergency services are functioning well and safely, that is exactly what we’ve done”.

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