29 May 2021

Waikato DHB cyber attack: Radiation therapy possibly back on next week

6:19 am on 29 May 2021

Radiation therapy for cancer patients is likely to be back on stream at the Waikato District Health Board (DHB) by the middle of next week as it starts restoring its IT services.

Waikato Hospital

Waikato Hospital. Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

The DHB's entire system crashed last week after a ransomware attack from overseas.

However, the restoration of services for radiation therapy will not be at full capacity and some patients will still need to be sent to other centres for treatment.

Health Minister Andrew Little toured Waikato Hospital this morning to see the extent of the problem for himself.

He said the DHB was making good progress in recovering and restoring IT systems.

"The incredible sense I got from talking to people was they arose to the occasion, adapted what they do, yes, it's added some things to their processes but they are doing a remarkable job."

He said there was no guarantee against cyber attacks.

"What we need to make sure is that as the systems here are reinstated and restored is that the best possible [protections] are put in place and the best mitigations are put in place, so if something does happen again we don't see the level of disruption that has been caused by this."

Ministry of Health IT and digital head Shane Hunter was also in Hamilton on Friday.

Ministry of Health IT and digital head Shane Hunter.

Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

He said the focus was on isolating, clearing and resetting the IT system and restoring data from back-up systems.

"I have to say I have been very impressed with the conversations that I have had with the staff and their commitment to both remedying the current situation, putting in the measures to limit further attacks, and continue delivering services under pretty trying conditions I would have to say."

He described it as the most significant cyber attack ever in this country.

"We know two years ago we had a PHO (primary health organisation) that was significantly attacked but it's pretty clear this is quite a significant attack on the DHB.

"By global standards, I understand this is not as large as some have been in overall scale but the reality it has had a significant impact on the DHB."

Hunter said whatever the size of a cyber attack, the main motivation was mainly money.

He said battling with cyber criminals was a game of cat and mouse.

Waikato District Health Board IT systems outage after cyber attack.

Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

Waikato DHB chief executive Kevin Snee said they were still analysing the data apparently leaked by a group claiming to be the attackers.

"We are in the process of contacting any patients where there is a confirmed privacy breach and that will be done today. It is a small number of patients but the numbers are likely to change."

Waikato District Health Board chief executive Kevin Snee.

Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

A dedicated 24/7 helpline is operating on 0800-562 234.

Hospital and community services director Chris Lowry said four cardiac patients had been transferred to Auckland for care.

"We are continuing to monitor our cardiac wait list particularly our in-patient acute to ensure that there aren't any delays in them getting their treatment and that they are getting treated within their clinically indicated timeframe."

Patients in the Waikato region are commending hospital staff following last week's cyber attack.

Five hospitals in the region remain offline after the ransomware crippled the DHB's IT systems.

Staff at Tokoroa Hospital have said the past week has been difficult, but one patient Tohu Rangikauwhata said hospital staff were doing the best they could despite challenging circumstances.

"You have to admire the efforts that have been put in there by all of them really. Unfortunately, they were hit with that and they are doing the best they possibly could under the circumstances."

The DHB said the Covid-19 test and trace system operated by them had been unaffected and would be able to cope if there was a surge in community testing as a result of the Melbourne outbreak.

Elective surgery and outpatients clinics at the DHB are still running at about 80 percent capacity.

Waikato DHB procedures/patients (all hospitals)

Emergency Department Presentations:

  • 24 May - 297
  • 25 May - 301
  • 26 May - 294
  • 27 May - 291

Elective Surgery:

  • 24 May - 90
  • 25 May - 116
  • 26 May - 132
  • 27 May - 104

Acute Surgery:

  • 24 May - 35
  • 25 May - 36
  • 26 May - 47
  • 27 May - 47

Clinics (Outpatients):

  • 24 May - 1883
  • 25 May - 2236
  • 26 May - 1809
  • 27 May - 2175

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