London hospitals cyberattack: Some operations canceled as attack disrupts patient care

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CNN
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A cyberattack on a contractor to England’s National Health Service has forced several major hospitals in London to cancel operations, blood tests and appointments and send patients elsewhere.

King’s College Hospital, Guy’s and St Thomas’ have all been affected, as have numerous primary care providers in the UK capital, a spokesperson for the National Health Service (NHS) said Tuesday.

The hospitals and providers affected are all partnered with Synnovis, a company that provides lab services to the NHS. The company said Tuesday it had been hit by a ransomware attack that affected all its IT systems “resulting in interruptions to many of our pathology services.”

Among the services most disrupted were those involving blood tests or transfusions.

Oliver Dowson, 70, was prepared for an operation from 6 a.m. on June 3 at the Royal Brompton hospital – a specialist heart and lung center managed by Guy’s and St Thomas’ – but was told by a surgeon at about 12.30 p.m. that it would not be going ahead, the PA news agency reported.

“The staff on the ward didn’t seem to know what had happened, just that many patients were being told to go home and wait for a new date,” he told the agency.

Vanessa Welham, from Streatham in south-west London, told the PA her husband’s blood test at Gracefield Gardens health centre was cancelled Monday evening and he was informed that local centers were not taking bookings for an “indefinite period of time.”

The NHS said the attack was having “a significant impact on the delivery of services” at hospitals in London, but added that emergency care continues to be available.

The NHS spokesperson apologized “for the inconvenience this is causing to patients and their families.”

“We are working urgently to fully understand the impact of the incident with the support of the government’s National Cyber Security Centre and our Cyber Operations team,” the spokesperson said.

Ransomware attacks typically involve hackers using malicious software, or malware, to block access to a server until a ransom is paid. Attacks on the health system in the UK are relatively rare, experts say.

Ciaran Martin, former head of the UK government’s National Cyber Security Centre, told CNN that UK healthcare services suffered “comparatively less disruption than the US” from ransomware attacks.

“That’s partly because so much of British healthcare is state run, and the government never pays,” Martin said.

“But this is an attack on a private supplier to the NHS. And it shows that the horrors of healthcare cybercrime disruption can hit these shores too.”

“The details are still emerging, but this seems a very serious incident with potential consequences for patient care,” Martin added.

Mark Dollar, the CEO of Synnovis, said the company was “incredibly sorry for the inconvenience and upset this is causing to patients, service users and anyone else affected. We are doing our best to minimize the impact and will stay in touch with local NHS services to keep people up to date with developments.”

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