No Covid figures to be published as disruption continues from major ransomware attack

Substantial cancellations are expected to continue to effect thousands of patients into next week as the HSE continues to battle the cyber attack which topped its IT system yesterday.
No Covid figures to be published as disruption continues from major ransomware attack

There will be no daily Covid figures published this evening due to ongoing disruption to the HSE's IT systems after the ransomware attack. Picture: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

No case numbers or figures for Covid-related fatalities will be published due to the disruption of yesterday's major ransomware attack, the Department of Health has said. 

In a tweet, the Department said due to disruptions to IT systems, no updates will be made available however backdated figures will later be published. 

It comes after the HSE has warned rebuilding their IT systems following the ransomware attack will be a "slow and methodical process", the health service has warned. 

Thousands of patients face cancelled appointments into next week at least as the HSE continues to battle the cyber attack which toppled its IT systems from early yesterday morning.

The attack is being treated with the highest level of security in the State, said Paul Reid, HSE CEO. Picture: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland.
The attack is being treated with the highest level of security in the State, said Paul Reid, HSE CEO. Picture: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland.

In an update issued Saturday, the HSE said that some progress was made overnight on laying the foundation step on which it can then begin the attempt to rebuild the core of the system.

“However, this will be a slow and methodical process from here, putting pieces back up and testing them one by one.”

The attack is being treated with the highest level of security in the State, and the highest level of the intelligence forces are engaged in its investigation, according to Paul Reid, director-general of the HSE. 

"We have the right people, and the State has the right people, looking through that process," he told RTÉ. 

"We in the HSE are very concentrated on restoring the data, restoring the networks in a very safe way, and protecting our services."

When asked if it is a possibility people's private data will be released, Mr Reid said we have no indication of that right now. 

"We don't have indications just yet fully assessed in terms of the patient data that has been accessed, that's a process that we're still going through. 

"We're now assessing across each system what level of data was encrypted, what level of data may have been compromised."

The Saolta Group of Hospitals said the ransomware attack on the HSE, continues to have a considerable impact on hospital services.

From Monday, there'll be disruptions at Letterkenny University Hospital, Sligo University Hospital, Mayo University Hospital, Roscommon University Hospital, Portiuncula University Hospital, Merlin Park University Hospital and University Hospital Galway.

The Hospital group said maternity services and dialysis treatment will go ahead at its seven hospitals across the country.

Patients should attend their chemotherapy appointments unless contacted and advised otherwise.

It says all outpatient clinics and X-ray, CT scans, MRI appointments and cardiac investigations are cancelled.

"Full resources have been committed"

In a statement issued on Saturday afternoon, the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications confirmed Minister Eamon Ryan and Minister of State Ossian Smyth had been briefed today by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).

"The NCSC's full resources have been committed to supporting the HSE in its response to the cyber attack, and the NCSC is liaising with international partners and third-party contractors. This work will continue throughout the weekend with the focus on supporting the HSE's recovery process in order to minimise disruption to services," the department said.

"The NCSC has also issued advisories to all its constituents across government and operators of essential services to help these bodies detect similar attacks but also providing guidance on responding to ransomware attacks."

Wider disruptions to hospital appointments similar to the Saolta Hospital Group looks likely to continue into next week, according to Anne O'Connor, the chief operations officer of the HSE. 

However, it will vary depending on local arrangements and people should keep an eye on the HSE website, and on their hospital's website, for any updates. 

Those who have Covid tests or vaccines booked should continue to show up as those systems are not affected. 

"We will say to people to keep an eye on the website and local hospital website as well if they are to attend appointments," she told RTÉ. 

Anne O'Connor, HSE Chief Operating Officer
Anne O'Connor, HSE Chief Operating Officer

"In the main what we are saying is we are prioritising urgent and time-dependent work."

Asked whether the disruptions could affect patients requiring critical care, Mr Reid said it was a "difficult one."

"Certainly some of the more complex, oncology, diagnostics that we have to go through, have been compromised and are compromised."

"So even in some cases where we are doing some complex diagnostics, we can take a diagnostic snapshot of today, and we have access to the system to do that, but we're not in a position to compare it against previous information."

Whether some patients have their treatments delayed depends on the progress that will be made over the weekend, he said.

Double extortion 

The attackers struck early in the hours of Friday morning, encrypting data across the health system so emails, test results — including vital blood tests — and patient records suddenly became unavailable.

A few hours later, the HSE received a note telling it that it was the victim of a ransomware attack. 

The message included a link to be clicked for instructions on what to do next. That message is now in the possession of An Garda Síochána. Interpol is also involved in the investigation as are national cybersecurity teams.

The attack is a type of ransomware known as Conti which operates a double extortion effect; the information is encrypted but the attackers may also threaten to steal and expose the data.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said last night: "We're very clear we will not be paying any ransom or engaging in any of that sort of stuff," and said the issue is being dealt with in a way that is in accordance with the advice of cybersecurity experts.

Messages went out early yesterday telling HSE employees to leave computers and all electronic devices turned off.

Throughout the day, staff worked the phones cancelling thousands of appointments around the country.

Many were working 'blind', as they could not access electronic records in many cases, although some departments, which still work with paper alongside electronic records, had better access.

Cancer services have been particularly impacted, with non-urgent radiation appointments cancelled in droves.

Maternity hospitals are also severely affected. The Master of Dublin's Rotunda Hospital, Fergal Malone, asked women not to attend appointments scheduled for Friday, unless they were over 36 weeks pregnant, or in an emergency.

 The vaccine booking portal is back online. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland
The vaccine booking portal is back online. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

In Munster, the Ireland South Women and Infants Directorate cancelled outpatient gynaecology clinics across Cork, Kerry, Waterford, and South Tipperary.

GPs were unable to book Covid-19 tests, although a new system to allow people to attend test centres without an appointment was put in place within hours.

Covid-19 vaccinations are arranged using an IT system separate to the main HSE system, but even this was offline until late yesterday. Vaccinations continued unabated.

The out-of-hours GP service continues over the weekend unaffected, as does the emergency National Ambulance Service.

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