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HSE making progress on restoring health systems, but disruption to continue next week

Government ministers have met to review progress on Ireland’s response to the attack.

LAST UPDATE | May 22nd 2021, 6:25 PM

THE HSE IS “making progress” towards restoring health systems that have been impacted by the cyber attack which hit the health service last week.

The HSE and IT experts have developed a new version of the decryption tool made available in the cyber attack, according to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.

decryption tool that might help the HSE to unlock its IT system following the widespread cyber attack last week is available online. 

A new version of the tool has been tested and a “structured and controlled deployment is now underway across the core network and devices across the system”, Donnelly said.

“We are making progress on restoring health systems which is important to our patients who need the services, and also to the staff across the service who are doing ferocious work after 14 months of intense work on Covid-19,” he said.

“The Ministerial Cyber Attack Taskforce continues to meet on a daily basis to review progress with the response to last week’s cyber-attack on the HSE and to co-ordinate ongoing actions across Government. Good progress is being made with the restoration of HSE and hospital IT.”

The National Integrated Medical Imagine System (NIMIS) platform that delivers digital radiology is live again in Beaumont hospital, with progress made in other hospitals.

However, Donnelly said the levels of disruption next week are expected to be similar to this week. 

Government ministers met today to review progress on Ireland’s response to the cyber attack on the HSE.

Ministers Donnelly, Eamon Ryan, and Heather Humphreys and Minister of State Ossian Smyth were updated on progress made towards restoring HSE and hospital IT systems, which is “essential to the restoration of care for patients and to support the personnel in the front line who are delivering care”, a government statement said.

“The Ministers expressed their particular appreciation for the exceptional efforts of frontline health care workers in the difficult circumstances caused by the cyber-attack,” the statement said.

“The National Cyber Security Centre, the HSE and specialist contractors are continuing to implement a detailed and dedicated operational programme to repair and restore the HSE’s IT systems and network, and are making very steady progress in what is a difficult and complex task.” 

Taoiseach Michéal Martin said yesterday that the reason the tool was provided was unknown.

Minister of State Niall Collins said earlier this afternoon that it was “still unclear” why the decryption key was made available.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s Saturday with Katie Hannon, Collins said that work was ongoing to determine whether or not the decryption key is functional. 

“The HSE is a hugely complex organisation, there’s over 80,000 devices across the HSE, which have to be checked as part of the whole response to this cyber attack,” Collins said.

The minister said that we need to “have a stepped up public awareness campaign over the next number of days to highlight to people, particularly vulnerable people”, the dangers posed by criminal organisations operating in the cyber sphere.

Vice President of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) Dr Gabrielle Colleran, a consultant radiologist in Holles Street, told RTÉ Radio One that it has been “by far the most difficult eight days” of her time in the HSE since joining the body in 2003.

Healthcare workers in Holles Street were tackling multiple challenges when they came into work last Friday, including disconnected computers, no working phones, and no access to patients’ records.

Dr Colleran said staff were “trying to piece together the picture of the clinical puzzle from conversations with each other”.

Interim measures, such as using mobile phones to communicate and taking notes by hand, were “quickly locking into place to try to keep the show on the road”.

However, “the reality is it’s so much slower when we are doing things by hand, when we don’t have access to the priors, it’s not the safe, high quality service that we want to provide and it’s much slower”.

Dr Colleran said it is “clear we’re going to have to invest coming out of this and it’s important that we invest not just in the hardware and the software, but in having the local expertise on site”.

“Many [healthcare workers in model three hospitals] have been quite affected by the fact that the expertise is centralised and not local on the ground. So it’s very important that we invest wisely in solutions that work, and solutions that work come from the frontline.”

Sinn Féin spokesperson for health David Cullinane said that “priority has to be to get services back up and running as quickly as possible”.

“We do need to have a conversation about cyber security and funding,” Cullinane said.

“We can’t take our eye off the ball in that area, because if criminal gangs can penetrate our healthcare system like that and almost bring it to its knees at a very vulnerable time, obviously more needs to be done.” 

The HSE has received a High Court injunction to stop data that might have been stolen during the attack being used illegally.

The injunction requires anyone possessing the HSE data to return it and not to disclose, trade, or deal in the information.

The public has been advised to be cautious of call and text scams by fraudsters taking advantage of fear around the attack on the HSE.

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