Ireland’s health service has closed down its computer systems after a major ransomware attack by “international criminals”, the country’s deputy prime minister has said.
The Republic’s Health Service Executive (HSE) said it shutdown its IT network as a “precaution” following the cyber assault, which was discovered overnight.
Leo Varadkar, who is himself a doctor, said the attack was “very serious” and could affect systems throughout the weekend and into next week.
He said: “It’s coming at a time when the health service is extremely busy doing lots of other things.
“It’s going to be a very difficult time for the health service.
“There’s lots we don’t know but it appears to be a ransomware attack by international criminals. The problem could run through the weekend and into next week, unfortunately.”
Systems for GP and close contact COVID-19 test referrals are among the services affected.
The online system for making child protection referrals to the child and family agency, Tusla, is also down.
As a result of the IT issues, Dublin’s Rotunda Hospital asked women not to attend appointments scheduled for Friday, unless they are over 36 weeks pregnant, or it is an emergency.
People with routine appointments at other hospitals have been told to attend “unless and until” they hear otherwise from health officials.
But the HSE said coronavirus vaccination appointments were not affected by the attack and are going ahead as planned.
Rotunda Critical Emergency
Due to a serious IT issue all outpatient visits are cancelled today – unless you are at 36 weeks pregnant or later. All gynae clinics are cancelled today.
If you have any urgent concerns please attend as normal.
Further updates will follow.
— The Rotunda Hospital (@RotundaHospital) May 14, 2021
HSE chief executive Paul Reid said: “We have been the subject of a very significant, major ransomware attack.
“It’s a very sophisticated attack. It is impacting all of our national and local systems that would be involved in all of our core services.
“We did become aware of it during the night and have been acting on it straight away. The immediate priority is obviously to contain this.”
Mr Reid told the national broadcaster RTE the health service was hit by a “human operated ransomware attack”, where hackers gain access to data and then seek a ransom for it.
He said no demands had yet been received.
The HSE has shut down many of its major systems as a precautionary measure and was being supported by national cyber security teams, including the police and the defence forces.
Mr Reid added: “I do want to reassure everybody this morning that the vaccination programme continues. It’s not impacted.
“So everybody should still come forward.”
He added that life-saving equipment, such as that used in intensive care units, has also not been affected.
“This is more or less information technology systems and transferring information across networks,” he said.
Due to a major IT issue, there will be significant disruption to all our services today.
If you have an appointment/need to come to the hospital, please come as normal. We ask that you please bear with us
We apologise for any inconvenience caused. Further updates will follow
— The National Maternity Hospital (@_TheNMH) May 14, 2021
The Rotunda’s Professor Fergal Malone said: “There’s no problems for patient safety. But, as a precaution, we’re asking all patients who have appointments today to not attend the hospital unless it’s an emergency, or unless they’re 36 weeks pregnant or over.
“All equipment is all absolutely operational and fine.
“Computers logging into electronic healthcare records is the issue, and the ability to access patient demographics, things like that – computer-based systems.
“They’ve all been taken offline as a precaution. We have systems in place to revert back to what you might call old-fashioned paper-based record-keeping.”
The National Maternity Hospital also warned of “significant disruption” due to the attack.
It said in a tweet: “Due to a major IT issue, there will be significant disruption to all our services today. If you have an appointment/need to come to the hospital, please come as normal. We ask that you please bear with us.”