UL Hospitals Group & Public Health Mid-West: COVID-19 Precautions ‘Imperative’ As Hospital Services Prioritised for the Most Unwell Patients in Wake of Cyber Attack

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UL Hospitals Group chief executive Colette Cowan

 AS hospital services in the Mid-West continue to be severely impacted by the cyber attack on HSE IT systems, members of the public are being urged to continue to follow the public health advice in relation to COVID-19.

On Thursday May 20th, there was a total of 14 COVID-positive patients admitted in UHL. This is an increase on the two COVID-positive patients admitted one week earlier on May 13th. While these figures should be interpreted with a large degree of caution, our clinicians are reporting an increase in COVID-19 related activity presenting to our ED at a time when the department, and all acute hospital services, are facing massive disruption as a result of last week’s cyber attack.

We continue to follow all national guidance on COVID-19 testing and we continue to take all the necessary infection control precautions. Separate COVID and non-COVID pathways remain in place for all patients attending our ED.

The effects of the cyber attack have increased wait times, increased the risk of crowding and are severely testing our diagnostic capacity as staff switch to manual back-up systems.

At this time it is imperative that people continue to adhere to the public health advice around hand hygiene, social distancing, cough and sneeze etiquette, wearing a mask and avoiding crowds.

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Colette Cowan, CEO, UL Hospitals Group, said:

“It seems particularly cruel that our patients and staff have been affected by this devastating cyber attack at a time when the progress of the vaccination programme and the lifting of restrictions was offering us so much hope. Our clinicians have in recent days reported an increase in COVID-19 activity through our ED. We need to interpret the data with caution and we are working closely with our public health and community colleagues on monitoring the overall trend of the pandemic.

“However, we are now appealing to the public to continue to adhere to the public health advice. Through the vaccination programme we have managed to offer protection to our most vulnerable citizens and to our hospital staff. However, vaccinated staff will still be required to stay off duty if they come into contact with a positive case. We simply cannot afford to see significant levels of staff off work at this time as we attempt to protect essential services and recover from this cyber attack. Hospital staff are also central to the region’s vaccination programme. In addition, COVID-19 still has the potential to cause serious illness and death in the significant numbers waiting for vaccination.”

Dr Mai Mannix, Director of Public Health Mid-West, said: “This sinister cyber attack has placed a massive hurdle in front of our health service that is already tackling its biggest ever crisis as a result of the pandemic. Our COVID-19 fight is far from over, and we continue to see young people, including parents of young families, being admitted to hospital with this disease. So, at this point in time as our health service deals with this cyber attack, I am asking everyone to help our frontline workers who are pulling out all the stops to protect the public. Avoid high-risk activity that could expose you or a loved one to being infected.”

If you do have symptoms of COVID-19, it is particularly important that you do not go to the Emergency Department or your GP. Ring them in advance for advice, and avoid contact with other people by self-isolating. In a medical emergency if you have severe symptoms, call 112 or 999.