Cancelled appointments top 6,000 but NHS claims most services now ‘near normal’ after cyberattack

In the first four weeks following the attack on pathology provider Synnovis, postponed procedures have included more than 200 planned cancer treatments, but NHS leaders claim services have recovered significantly

More than 6,000 operations and consultations have been cancelled following the cyberattack on an NHS pathology provider last month, but health-service leaders have claimed most services have now recovered to “near to normal” status.

Services in parts of London – and particularly at two major hospital trusts: King’s College; and Guy’s and St Thomas’ – have been significantly impacted by a ransomware assault on pathology provider Synnovis on 3 June.

The most recent release of weekly data shows that, in the fourth full week since then – covering the period from 24 to 30 June – some 136 elective procedures scheduled to take place across the two trusts had to be postponed as a result of the attack. This included 13 planned cancer treatments – a total of more than 200 of which have now been rescheduled in the weeks since the incident.

A total of 1,517 other outpatient appointments were cancelled during the last week of June.

As of the start of this month, the cumulative total of appointments postponed by the two trusts following the Synnovis cyber breach stood at 6,304 – comprising 1,391 operations or other elective procedures, and 4,913 outpatient consultations.

Pathology services throughout south-east London operating at 54% of capacity during the week to 30 June – a rise on the previous week’s figure of 45%, and a huge rebound on the 10% figure recorded in the initial seven days following the attack.

This improvement reflects a wider and significant recovery of most services in the past month, according to Dr Chris Streather, medical director for NHS London.

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“I’m incredibly proud of how the NHS in London continues to work to minimise the impact on patients, with staff working hard to maintain patient safety and provide the high-quality care that we strive for across the capital,” he said. “Although we are seeing significant progress, with most services operating near to normal, we continue to work tirelessly in partnership with our colleagues across London to ensure all services are back to being fully operational as quickly as possible.”

The response to the cyber assault has included the implementation of a mutual aid plan, via which unaffected primary care providers in nearby parts of the capital have pitched in to fulfil some appointments.

NHS Blood and Transplant has also appealed for potential donors to give type O blood – which can be used with all patients, minimising the need for pathology checks which might otherwise be delayed or unavailable.

Synnovis operates as a joint venture between diagnostics firm Synlab and the King’s College Hospital and Guy’s St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trusts. Engaging with a cumulative total of 10,000 patients each day, the two trusts are among the largest in the country, with a collective budget of £2.2bn and 24,000 employees.

The ransomware attack on the pathology provider has been attributed to Russian cyber gang Qilin. The criminals claim to have published about 4GB of stolen data, comprising 300 million individual items. Investigations have thus far revealed that this includes sensitive personal information, including patients’ names, NHS numbers, and details of the type of test procedures they were administered.

Sam Trendall

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