2 Jun 2021

Waikato DHB cyber attack: Staff still working in 'extremely difficult' circumstances

6:41 am on 2 June 2021

Exhausted Waikato doctors and nurses are still in the dark about when life will be back to normal more than two weeks after a massive cyber attack.

Waikato Hospital

Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

Waikato DHB's clinical director of medical services Graham Mills said it had been a long two weeks.

"It's not been easy. It's actually been extremely difficult because what we've had to do is create a number of work-arounds," he said.

With a lack of modern diagnostic equipment, and the speed of computer communication, it was taking about two times longer to treat every urgent patient, he said.

"You still have just as many patients but you now have only have half the time because everything takes twice as long. So that's physically exhausting as well as the mental exhaustion," he said.

Staff have employed some novel adaptations.

A Lamson system, the shute and cartridge network once used in department stores to deliver change, is being used to send lab results.

The hospital still had it in place to carry lab samples and, with instant computer results off the cards, they have now expanded its use.

The trick was making sure the results got to the right place - with one of the biggest challenges across every aspect of the hospital knowing where patients were at any one time without the use of computers, Dr Mills said.

Psychiatrist and clinical head of the mental health and addictions service Rees Tapsell said it had been a difficult and stressful time for staff.

The attack was "an incredibly traumatic criminal act" and everyone was doing the best they could to deal with it, he said.

It had been a challenge for his team not having access to patient history and to have to ask for it again.

"As you might imagine that can sometimes be a bit irritating for patients and their families as they've often said that to people many times before but what we've found is that people have been very understanding," he said.

There was a "back to the future" vibe, getting used to paperwork and paper prescriptions again but, because much of their work was done by talking to people, the team was not as disrupted as others by a lack of diagnostic technology.

They were now able to see about the same number of patients as before, he said.

Some patients were anxious about their sensitive information being exposed, he said.

Mills said he wanted to make clear that hospital life was still far from business as usual.

Taking away information technology changed the way a hospital worked and the work-arounds would never be as good, he said.

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