Hack of health IT system has had ‘catastrophic’ impact, says HSE chief

The head of Ireland’s health service has described the “catastrophic” impact of a “stomach-churning” hack of its IT systems.

The number of appointments in some areas of the system has dropped by 80% as health workers grapple with paper records while work continues to recover IT systems.

HSE chief executive Paul Reid criticised the ransomware attack as a “callous act” and an attack on health workers who have been working “relentlessly” through the coronavirus pandemic.

He said the “catastrophic impact” of the hack on the health service emerged in the early hours of last Friday.

“I really do believe this is quite a stomach-churning criminal act,” he said.

“To launch an attack of such a massive scale on sick and vulnerable people in this country in the midst of a global pandemic is quite an extraordinary thing to do.

“There is no doubt it is a vicious and a callous act and will be condemned everywhere by decent people.

“It is also specifically an attack on healthcare workers having worked relentlessly for 15 months, making many personal sacrifices and taking many personal risks and providing care for people most impacted by Covid-19… coming after three of the most challenging months in the history of the health system in Ireland.”

He told an HSE media briefing on Thursday that the response has been “comprehensive” since last Friday and will “continue to be relentless”.

However he said work to undo the damage will continue into the coming weeks.

“We are now in the assessment phase where we’re assessing all across the network… to understand the impacts across the network,” he said.

Mr Reid said there are 2,000 systems used by the health service and more than 4,500 servers.

“This is in essence the rebuilding of a legacy network of 30 years,” he said.

The briefing heard the impact on services included a reduction by 70%-80% in outpatient appointments each day.

Hackers have reportedly threatened to release patient data on Monday if a ransom is not paid.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin previously ruled out the paying of any ransom.

Mr Reid told Thursday’s briefing that it is not unusual and not unexpected that there is a threat to publish.

He urged members of the public to report any suspicious activity to the Garda.