A London Hospital Is Asking Its Own Workers for Blood After Cyberattack

By Shona Ghosh and Yazhou Sun | June 12, 2024

A London hospital, facing blood supply disruptions after a cyberattack last week paralyzed operations, is asking its own clinical workers for blood.

King’s College Hospital is calling on staff with the blood type O to schedule donations, according to an internal memo sent to staff and reviewed by Bloomberg News. The hospital declined to comment. National Health Service, the publicly funded health care system in England, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The letter followed a broader appeal issued by NHS England to the general public for blood donations and is only the latest fallout from a ransomware attack that has plagued several of the region’s medical centers since June 4. The hack against Synnovis, a provider that helps manage blood transfusions and testing for the hospitals, has forced some facilities to delay medical operations, postpone blood samples and resort to handwritten records.

Hack That Crippled UK Hospitals Highlights Growing Threat to NHS

“NHS Blood and Transplant is calling for O blood type donors (both positive and negative) to book appointments in order to support the response to the ransomware cyber attack incident,” Julie Lowe, deputy chief executive of King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said in the internal memo. “Staff are also encouraged to donate blood as well.”

O type blood is particularly critical. O negative blood can be given to anyone regardless of their own blood type, and O positive is the most common type. The attack has meant hospitals can’t match patients’ blood at the same frequency as usual, NHS Blood and Transplant said Monday in a statement.

Continued Disruptions

The memo also warns that disruptions tied to the hack were expected to continue for the rest of the week, with the trust redirecting “a small number of patients” to other hospitals. Some planned operations and outpatient appointments will likely be canceled, Lowe said. “We still do not know when Synnovis’ systems are likely to be restored, so we should expect to be dealing with this incident for the rest of this week, and beyond,” she added.

The attack on Synnovis, a partnership between diagnostics company Synlab UK & Ireland and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, has primarily affected patients of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital, King’s College Hospital and primary care in southeast London. The lab services provider has said it is working with NHS England to minimize the impact on patients.

The fallout of the attack has rippled across to primary care providers whose practices rely on the affected hospitals for laboratory services.

Azeem Majeed, a physician in south London, said local practices and community services have historically ordered up 10,000 blood samples a day for testing. Providers are now restricted to requesting around 400 a day, he said.

Routine blood tests for patients with conditions including high blood pressure, diabetes and kidney diseases are facing delays, he said, while noting that patients with urgent issues are being prioritized.

Discarded Samples

Thousands of patient blood samples are set to go to waste because Synnovis is unable to export test results quickly via its own IT systems, most of which remain locked down, the company said in an update to clinicians on Monday.

Synnovis said it received around 8,000 blood samples last week and has processed about 3,000 of these. The process is taking longer than usual as staff are logging samples manually, typing the results into its systems and then relaying them over the phone.

“It is very likely that most will need to be discarded because the sample will have degraded, making results unreliable,” the company wrote. “Of those tests processed, we have phoned through all results that sit outside of critical limits, however, we have been unable to return any results electronically and are unlikely to be able to do so.”

No group has publicly taken credit for the ransomware attack, a type of hack that locks the victim out of their own systems or data until they pay the hackers to restore access.

Third Hack

Hacker groups generally avoid targeting health-care providers, according to Cian Heasley, a researcher at Adarma Security. He said Qilin, a Russian-speaking “ransomware-as-a-service” operation which has previously targeted health care providers directly or through affiliates, is one possible culprit.

Qilin took credit for a ransomware attack on the Neurology Center of Nevada and Dutch elder-care provider Attentive Care and Treatment in 2023.

“Ransomware groups that are willing to target the health-care sector understand the value of the data,” Heasley said. “The potential leaking of stolen data is only part of the problem; the data itself is vital to patient treatment.”

This ransomware attack is the third to hit Synlab AG in the last year. In June 2023, Synlab said its French branch was hit by attacker group Clop and in April a cyberattack paralyzed the group’s Italian operation.

Photograph: King’s College Hospital in London is calling on staff with the blood type O to schedule donations. Photo credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg


Topics Cyber London

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