NHS cyberattack: Urgent call for blood donors as reports warn of ‘many months’ to recover

Following last week’s ransomware assault, the difficulty of undertaking pathology checks means that there is a marked need for type O blood – which is safe for use with all patients

The fallout from the cyber incident affecting NHS services in London continues, with health-service leaders making an urgent call for blood donations and reports claiming that the impact of the ransomware attack could last for “many months”.

Last week pathology services provider – Synnovis, a joint venture between diagnostics firm Synlab and two major London NHS trusts: Kings’s College and Guy’s and St Thomas’ – was hit by a ransomware attack reportedly undertaken by Russian criminal gang Qilin. The two trusts, which typically treat a daily total of 10,000 patients across nine hospitals and a wide range of other care facilities, have had to cancel some appointments and experienced delays and disruption since the incident.

NHS leaders have now also revealed that the attack is impacting the blood stocks used in operations, as “the affected hospitals cannot currently match patients’ blood at the same frequency as usual”.

Senior clinicians have thus issued an urgent call for anyone with the blood types O positive or O negative to give blood at one of 25 facilities in city centres around the country. Type O blood is particularly needed in this instance because it can be safely used for all patients – minimising the need for pathology checks which might be unavailable or delayed because of the cyberattack. Regular and ongoing replenishment is also needed because blood only has a shelf life of 35 days.

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Professor Stephen Powis, medical director for NHS England, said: “We know that a number of operations and appointments have been postponed or diverted to other neighbouring hospitals not impacted by the cyberattack, as we prioritise pathology services for the most clinically urgent cases. To help London staff support and treat more patients, they need access to O Negative and O Positive blood, so if one of these is your blood type, please come forward to one of the 13,000 appointments currently available in NHS Blood Donor Centres.”

The two trusts principally affected by the attack are still understood to remain in ‘critical incident’ status, while other health-service bodies across south-east London have also been impacted, including: Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust; South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust;  Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust; Bromley Healthcare; and various primary care facilities.

A story from the Guardian, quoting a senior NHS source, reports that the disruption to services could persist for a long time to come.

“It is unclear how long it will take for the services to get back to normal, but it is likely to take many months,” the source said. ““Key to a return to normal will be clarity about how the hackers gained access to the system, how many records have been affected and whether these records are retrievable.”

In the meantime, “NHS staff are working around the clock to minimise disruption to patient care following the ransomware cyberattack”, according to a formal statement issued by Chris Streather, medical director for NHS England London

“Pathology services at the impacted sites are available – albeit at a reduced capacity – with the most urgent cases being prioritized,” he said. “Unfortunately, some non-urgent operations and procedures including transplants continue to be postponed, while nearly all non-urgent blood tests have been postponed in primary care services in south-east London. We are sorry to all those who have been impacted and staff will work hard to re-arrange appointments and treatments as quickly as possible.

“Urgent and emergency services are available as usual so patients should access services in the normal way by dialling 999 in an emergency and otherwise use NHS 111 through the NHS App, online or on the phone. If you have not heard from your healthcare provider, please attend appointments as normal as services including outpatients and community services are mostly running as usual, including cervical screening.”

Sam Trendall

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