Queensland’s Health Department has inadvertently hacked itself after trying to beef up cyber security in hospitals.
Thousands of doctors and nurses in five of the state’s busy hospitals — including the Princess Alexandra and Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital in Brisbane and the Cairns, Townsville and Mackay hospitals — have been blocked from logging on to the computer system in recent days.
Health Minister Cameron Dick said the bungle occurred after security patches were installed by Queensland Health following ransomware attacks on public institutions in Europe a fortnight ago.
Hackers linked to North Korea have been blamed for the cyber attack this month, which infected hundreds of thousands of computers and disrupted banks, schools and hospitals.
Queensland e-health chief executive Richard Ashby said the department was alerted at 3am on May 13 of the European attacks and immediately ramped up the system’s firewall on the advice of the government’s technology providers, including Microsoft.
Dr Ashby said the experts were still warning that more ransomware attacks were “highly probable”. But in Queensland the attempt to be proactive backfired, and the firewall has been blocking some admissions staff and clinicians from accessing the system.
“There’s been no closure of beds, no rescheduling of elective surgery,” Mr Dick said.
He said 22 — of 2000 — specialist appointments on one day at Brisbane’s PA hospital had to be postponed because of the snafu. Patients in some wards at all five hospitals have also been temporarily shifted back to paper records, rather than using the digital system.
“There might be some delay in admission and discharge of patients but otherwise patients are safe,” Mr Dick said.
“For all intents and purposes, Queensland hospitals are operating as if it’s business as usual.”
The government insisted the problem would be fixed in seven days, but opposition health spokesman John-Paul Langbroek said Labor could not be trusted to manage health.
“Another day, another IT bungle under this do-nothing Queensland Labor government,” Mr Langbroek said.