Long road to NHS recovery after cyber attack

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It could be a ‘long time’ before health services in Lancashire are running as normal after an international cyber attack.

Hundreds of appointments have been postponed after cyber criminals held vital NHS data to ransom.

Dr David Wrigley

Dr David Wrigley

Today, Dr David Wrigley, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association, who has advised the government on cyber security, says fitting patients back in will cause “big problems” in the coming weeks and months.

And with the attack still causing havoc across Lancashire’s hospitals cyber experts warn further attacks could happen again.

Lancashire-based Dr Wrigley said: “Fitting the cancelled operations in is definitely going to cause problems. It’s going to have to be a case of fitting them in when they can. It’s a great inconvenience.”

Dr Wrigley spoke out after the cyber attack which brought parts of the NHS into chaos on Friday.

Operations were cancelled at Chorley and Preston hospitals over the weekend and on Monday. And although the hospitals will be operating as normal from today, Dr Wrigley says the long term effects will be felt for a while to come.

Dr Wrigley was part of a team that drew up security guidelines for the government last year. He says the were provisionally accepted by the Department of Health last summer but the advice wasn’t ultimately taken.

“The software isn’t up to date and so is vulnerable,” he said. “That means this situation could have been predicted but I guess it’s a lack of funding which meant the update didn’t take place.

“Now this cyber attack has happened it means there needs to nationwide look into the systems the NHS is using and funds put in to make sure it is all updated.”

The ‘WannaCry’ cyber attack affected 47 NHS organisations including several across Lancashire.

After cancelling operations for a number of days, Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Chorley and Preston hospitals, is now advising patients to attend appointments as normal from today.

A statement on Lancashire Teaching Hospitals’ website says: “Please attend your appointment as planned. However we are still experiencing some problems with our imaging systems, so some appointments may still be affected. We will speak to individual patients who are affected, so if you have not heard otherwise, please attend your appointment.

“We apologise to every patient whose treatment has been affected.”

GP surgeries across the county hit by the cyber attack are also still battling to get back to normal.

Computers went into lock down on Friday afternoon as the virus meant practices couldn’t access essential patient information.

But tireless work over the weekend by NHS IT engineers has seen most back to normal.

Dr Wrigley’s Carnforth practice was one of those affected. He said: “We had no computers and no access to any records. We were only able to deal with urgent problems.

“After the NHS IT teams worked relentlessly over the weekend we were able to get some access on Sunday evening but it took two to three hours to load up.

“Even now we still can’t access hospital letters but we’re getting back to normal.”

A spokesperson for NHS Chorley and South Ribble CCG and NHS Greater Preston CCG said: “We are working with our GP practices to understand the extent to which they have been affected by the cyber attack and IT engineers are supporting practices to get their systems back up and running as quickly as possible.

“However, there is likely to be disruption to services at practices and we are asking the public to be patient with practices and use NHS services wisely at this time.

“Patients are reminded that NHS 111 is available 24/7, and local pharmacists can also provide expert advice and over-the-counter medicines without the need to see a GP.”

Elsewhere in the county, Blackpool Victoria Hospital is almost back to normal although there are still some delays.

Southport and Formby District General Hospital is still telling patients to stay away while Morecambe Bay NHS Trust which runs Lancaster Infirmary, tweeted: “Attend your planned appointments, unless you have been contacted directly by the Trust.”