Nfld. & Labrador

Cyberattack on health care throws wrench into plans for those travelling for appointments

An apparent cyberattack on parts of Newfoundland and Labrador's health-care system is leaving doctors and patients scrambling after thousands of medical appointments were cancelled on Monday as a result.

'I fell to my knees and nearly cried,' says patient from Sheshatshiu

Greg Nuna flew into St. John's from Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Sunday evening. His surgery, scheduled for Monday morning, was cancelled due to an apparent cyberattack on the province's health-care system. (Submitted by Victoria Nuna)

An apparent cyberattack on parts of Newfoundland and Labrador's health-care system is leaving doctors and patients scrambling after thousands of medical appointments were cancelled on Monday as a result. 

Greg Nuna told CBC News he received a call Friday night that there was a surgery available for him on Monday morning at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John's. He and his daughter flew out of Happy Valley-Goose Bay Sunday evening, but when they arrived at the hospital around 7:30 a.m. Monday morning, he said, he was told all appointments were cancelled.

"I think the systems were down by Sunday, but there were no notification to patients like us. It's hurtful, but it's beyond their control," Nuna said. 

"There should be some sort of system to determine whether their day surgeries are going ahead. I've come a long way and I'm really disappointed."

Nuna said he's been wearing a catheter and a bag for three months, adding it's uncomfortable for him in his daily life and that he's unable to go hunting out on the land to provide for his family. He said the plan was to have it removed Monday and he was excited to get back to his life.

"I fell to my knees and nearly cried," he said. "I'm disappointed, hoping I'd be able to get back to being a normal person to do stuff with my kids and my family, to go out [and] enjoy life."

Nuna said he is supposed to return home to Sheshatshiu on Tuesday but is hoping the situation will turn for the better before then. 

Jessica Connors arrived in St. John's from Labrador for a scheduled MRI appointment. It was cancelled, but Connors is being accommodated Tuesday before heading home on Wednesday. (Submitted by Jessica Connors)

Jessica Connors also travelled from Labrador for an appointment in St. John's on Monday morning. 

She said it's a frustrating situation, as it's a difficult task to travel to St. John's from Labrador and tough mentally to prepare herself for what was supposed to be an MRI. 

Last summer Connors had emergency surgery to remove a Grade 2 tumour from her head. She said the tumour has a chance of growing back, so for the next three to five years she has to get an MRI scan every six months to ensure there's no regrowth.

"Preparing myself for this appointment and result.… I had myself so worked up to get this done and over with," she said. 

Connors did receive an update later on Monday. She said she was contacted by the radiology department and has been added to a list of people who will be accommodated Tuesday. Connors leaves St. John's on Wednesday.

Widespread issue

In Carbonear, about an hour's drive from St. John's, Darlene Ryan Deirble said her husband, Jean-Claude had an appointment scheduled Monday for knee surgery that was cancelled.

"There's absolutely no one to ask. All I know is that they're rebooking the appointments, but you have to arrange an OR date," she said. 

"It's hard, it's really hard to figure it out. Hopefully they'll get up and running today, not in a couple of weeks' time."

The apparent cyberattack was noticed Saturday morning, Health Minister John Haggie told reporters on Monday. Haggie said the attack hit "the brain of the data centre."

Sources told CBC News on Monday the attack was ransomware, but Haggie couldn't confirm, saying it's still under investigation.

Eastern Health has returned to using paper records as a contingency plan. David Diamond, Eastern Health's CEO, told reporters he anticipates the health authority will also delay non-emergency procedures on Tuesday, and delays could extend into Wednesday.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Labrador Morning, Peter Cowan and Garrett Barry

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