Blood tests delayed as fallout from cyber attack on London hospitals continues

Guys and St Thomas’ Hospital in London has been affected by the attack (PA Wire)
Guys and St Thomas’ Hospital in London has been affected by the attack (PA Wire)

Patients in London could face delays of more than two months to operations, blood tests and procedures after to a Russian cyberattack on a pathology firm used by two major NHS trusts and GP surgeries, doctors have warned.

King’s College Hospital NHS Trust and Guy’s and St Thomas NHS Trust declared a critical incident and were unable to carry out blood transfusions after the attack on Synnovis on June 3.

Some procedures and operations have been cancelled or have been redirected to other NHS providers due to the disruption.

Qilin, a Russian group of cyber criminals, is understood to have been behind the attack which has brought routine care to a standstill in parts of the capital.

The attack has also severely impacted GPs in south and south east London, who are unable to carry out routine blood tests.

Dr Abdul Kamali, a GP in east London, told the Standard that he expected the disruption to last for at least two months.

“I am concerned about patients that need urgent tests for prostate cancer or other illnesses who might now see their diagnosis and treatment delayed,” he said.

“One of my patients returned from a major hospital in London on Tuesday where they waited for five hours in A&E to get a result for a blood test. They weren’t able to get one, so they had to self-discharge and returned to us, but we couldn’t arrange for a test either. Any delays to diagnosis could have a serious impact on someone’s health.”

He raised concerns that the attack could compound waiting times for Londoners in the months to come, despite Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s pledge to reduce the NHS backlog.

The latest figures show that the waiting list for routine hospital treatment has risen for the first time in seven months.

An estimated 7.57 million treatments were waiting to be carried out at the end of April, relating to 6.33 million patients – up slightly from 7.54 million treatments and 6.29 million patients at the end of March.

Dr Kamali said: “This will have a knock on effect on the waiting list. We were still trying to catch up with the backlog from Covid before this attack and this will have a further impact.”

He added that cybersecurity in the NHS was “vital” and needed to be a priority for health leaders.

“We take cybersecurity for granted but it needs to be first-class. One glitch can have a massive impact on the wider system.”

The NHS has issued an urgent appeal for blood donors to come forward after the attack (PA Media)
The NHS has issued an urgent appeal for blood donors to come forward after the attack (PA Media)

In an email to NHS staff on Monday, Synnovis said that it could only process 400 blood samples a day from the trusts affected by the strike.

The affected hospitals cannot currently match patients’ blood at the same frequency as usual, NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) said.

Last week, NHSBT launched an “urgent” appeal across England for people with “universal” blood to come forward and donate.

Prof Dee Thiruchelvam, chief nursing officer at NHSBT, told the Standard that the service was having to change how its manages its blood stocks as a result of the attack.

“We are not able to rapidly match people’s blood types and it is having to be done manually. To ensure there isn’t a delay in emergency treatment in A&E or at ambulance incidents, we need more O Negative and O Positive blood.”

She said the response to the appeal had been “fantastic” but that the service needed a “sustained” increase in supply of blood to support patients.

“None of us know when we will need a blood donation. We could be in a life-threatening situation and need blood. By donating you can help to ensure that the treatment of you or your loved ones is not affected by this cyber attack.”

A spokesperson for Synnovis said: “Our team is currently working with the trusts and GPs to determine which samples will be affected and the process for informing patients.

"We understand and apologise for any distress this may cause patients who have to re-test."

An NHS spokesperson said: “NHS staff are working around the clock to minimise the significant disruption to patient care following the ransomware cyber attack and we are sorry to all those who have been affected.

“Pathology services are integral to a wide range of treatments and we know that a number of operations and appointments have been cancelled due to this attack. We continue to work with hospitals and local GP services to fully assess the disruption and to ensure the data is accurate.

“In the meantime our advice to patients remains that if you have not been contacted, please do continue to attend your appointments.”

Has your treatment been severely disrupted? Email daniel.keane@standard.co.uk