Procedures cancelled after cyber attack affects major London hospitals

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A number of procedures have been cancelled or redirected to other NHS providers after a ransomware attack struck major hospitals in the capital.

King’s College Hospital, Guy’s and St Thomas’, including the Royal Brompton and the Evelina London Children’s Hospital, and primary care services were hit by the attack on pathology partner Synnovis on Monday.

Synnovis “was the victim of a ransomware cyberattack”, according to chief executive Mark Dollar.

“This has affected all Synnovis IT systems, resulting in interruptions to many of our pathology services,” he said.

The hospitals have declared a “critical incident” which is having a “major impact” on the delivery of services, with blood transfusions particularly affected.

Mr Dollar said the immediate impact is on patients using NHS services within the hospitals, as well as GP services across Bexley, Greenwich, Lewisham, Bromley, Southwark and Lambeth boroughs.

“We are incredibly sorry for the inconvenience and upset this is causing to patients, service users and anyone else affected,” Mr Dollar said.

“We are doing our best to minimise the impact and will stay in touch with local NHS services to keep people up to date with developments.”

Some procedures and operations have been cancelled or have been redirected to other NHS providers as hospital bosses continue to establish what work can be carried out safely.

One patient, Oliver Dowson, 70, was prepared for an operation from 6am on Monday at Royal Brompton when he was told by a surgeon at about 12.30pm that it would not be going ahead.

“The staff on the ward didn’t seem to know what had happened, just that many patients were being told to go home and wait for a new date,” he said.

“I’ve been given a date for next Tuesday and I am crossing my fingers – it’s not the first time that they have cancelled, they did it on 28 May too, but that was probably staff shortages in half-term week,” he said.

A spokesperson for NHS England London region said the attack was having a “significant impact” on services at Guy’s and St Thomas’, King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trusts and primary care services in south-east London.

“We apologise for the inconvenience this is causing to patients and their families.”

Emergency care continues and patients should still attend appointments unless told otherwise, the spokesperson said.

They said they would continue updating patients on the impact and how they can still access care, and are working with the government’s National Cyber Security Centre to understand what happened.

The cyber incident meant some departments could not connect to their main server.

A senior source told the Health Service Journal (HSJ) gaining access to pathology results could take “weeks, not days”.

“Non-essential transfusions were paused when the incident emerged,” Sky News’ science and technology editor Tom Clarke reported.

“Anyone needing emergency transfusions, they’re having to proceed with pen and paper, as I understand it. Obviously, that will slow down the matching of blood and things like that.”

There are suggestions urgent and emergency care at the hospitals will be affected as they may not be able to access quick-turnaround blood test results.

Synnovis was formed from a partnership between SYNLAB UK & Ireland, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, and King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

It describes itself as “one of the largest pathology service providers in the UK” and aims to improve patient outcomes through “faster testing services and state-of-the-art laboratories”, according to its website.

Mr Dollar said Synnovis takes cyber security “very seriously” and the attack could happen to “anyone”.

“This is a harsh reminder that this sort of attack can happen to anyone at any time and that, dispiritingly, the individuals behind it have no scruples about who their actions might affect,” he said.

“The NHS is in a difficult situation in the face of prolific threats, exacerbated by recent IT budget cuts, and it is now at its most vulnerable to cyberattack,” Deryck Mitchelson, from cyber security firm Check Point, told Sky News.

“The healthcare sector is one of the most targeted industries globally with an average organisation facing more than 2,140 cyber attacks per week.

“The NHS holds a huge volume of valuable personal identifiable information that could fetch a big price tag if sold on the dark web, so it is important that we understand what has been extracted to fully appreciate the scale of the potential breach,” he said.

There have been a number of recent attacks on NHS groups.

Last month, a ransomware group released stolen patient data onto the dark web after an attack on NHS Dumfries and Galloway in March.

Julie White, chief executive of NHS Dumfries and Galloway, branded it an “utterly abhorrent criminal act”.

“We should not be surprised at this outcome, as this is in line with the way these criminal groups operate,” she said.

The health board is urging the public to be alert for any attempts to access their work and personal data.

A government spokesperson said: “Patient safety is our priority and the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and the National Cyber Security Centre are working together to investigate impacts from a cyber incident affecting a pathology provider.

“Support is being provided to the company and we are working with them to minimise the impact on services for a number of NHS organisations in South East London.”

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