Friday May 12, 2017

Patients put at risk in 'despicable' NHS cyberattack, U.K. health-care worker says

The National Health Service has been crippled by a massive cyberattack.

The National Health Service has been crippled by a massive cyberattack. (Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images)

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A massive cyberattack that has crippled hospitals and health-care clinics across the United Kingdom is putting patients' lives at risk, health-care workers say.

What appears to be a ransomware attack has affected at least 16 organizations within the U.K.'s state-run National Health Service, according to an NHS statement, forcing doctors to cancel appoints, divert ambulances and turn patients away.

NHS workers have been locked out of affected computers, on which pop-up messages demanded a ransom payment in exchange for regaining access.  Security experts told the BBC it may be part of a global series of attacks affecting computers in dozens of countries.

Chris Maguire, a clinical pharmacist in Liverpool, spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about how health-care workers are coping with the chaos, and what it effect it is having on patient care. Here is part of their conversation.

Carol Off: When did you first realize that your computers were being attacked?

Chris Maguire: We were rang around 2:45 p.m. to let us know there was an issue with the computer system and that we had to get off it ASAP. We then had to download a lot of our patient notes and care summaries to hard copies so we could still see some patients who were already booked in. 

CO: So you're just shut down at this point? You're back to the early 20th century?

CM: Yeah, pretty much. We've had to find pens again and paper and start recording things and hopefully that'll be good enough for today.

CO: How has it affected your practice and your patients?

CM: We have lost the ability to look at communications from the hospitals, so we've lost consultant letters because we couldn't see those today. We haven't been able to see any up-to-date blood tests that have been done.

It's been a bit of a mixed bag. Within the practice I've been in, some GPs [general practitioners] haven't been able to do any work, some GPs have been able to do some, and then listening to our colleagues in hospital, it's been more of an issue for them.

BRITAIN-HEALTH/

Ambulances have been diverted after a massive cyberattack on the National Health Service. (Phil Noble/Reuters)

CO: How might this put patients at risk?

CM:  If patients can't have an operation they've waited six months for, or they're coming in with a newly acute issue, or they've had a stroke and we're not able to look at the records to find out what medication they're on or find out what bloods they've had from their own GP practices, it leaves, I think, a lot of doctors at medical legal risk, it leaves the patients at risk, and I think whoever's behind this, if they've intentionally targeted the NHS, is just despicable.

Just an absolute disgusting attack to take on something like the NHS, which is obviously there to make patients' lives better. It's not a money-making operation.

CO: So why do you think hackers would target the National Health Service in Britain?

CM: It's put to a standstill. It's one of the government's mainstays with the U.K. We need it to survive. GPs need it. Nurses need it. The patients need it.

It's just a 24/7 organization that works all the time, so without it we're kind of lost. And so it's obviously gonna be very lucrative if anyone pays. I hope they don't. I hope they can resolve everything with our own IT engineers, but who knows? That's way beyond my knowledge.

CO: It must have been something of a shock to realize how completely vulnerable the National Health Service's computers are.

CM: It is quite a worry that we've obviously got some kind of fragile protection looking after all this information. But we've heard from NHS digital today that no patient data has been compromised.

I just means we can't actually do any work, which is frustrating and life-endangering.

With files from Associated Press. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more, listen to our full conversation with Chris Maguire.