The disruptions rocking the Newfoundland and Labrador healthcare system are due to a cyberattack, Health Minister John Haggie confirmed Wednesday.
Mr. Haggie’s confirmation comes five days after the IT problems were discovered Saturday morning, and after repeated government refusals to detail the situation that caused the cancellation of thousands of medical procedures, ranging from chemotherapy to X-rays.
“We are not yet clear on the total extent of the failures. We know we have been subject to an attack,” Mr. Haggie said.
Mr. Haggie would not comment on who may be behind the attack, what communication there may have been with those behind it, or what type of cybercrime it is.
Pat Hepditch, vice-president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Health Information — which handles the province’s health-care IT needs — said their investigation revealed an “unauthorized third party” had compromised the system.
“We are working hard now to gain a full understanding of the attack, but there are still many unanswered questions,” said Mr. Hepditch.
Revealing more might jeopardize the investigation into what happened and the efforts to restore the IT systems needed to get the bulk of the province’s healthcare systems back online, Mr. Haggie said.
“Those involved in the attack may actually be monitoring what we are saying in media and on the floor of the House [of Assembly],” Mr. Haggie said.
“It’s very important, therefore, we don’t do or say anything that compromises the efforts underway to investigate and resolve this matter.”
Authorities including the RCMP are investigating, Haggie said. They and other experts being consulted recommend minimizing the information released to the public, he added.
“We are following their advice. They know this area. This is not health care; this is cybersecurity, and these people are world-class in their field,” he said.
While the cyberattack has affected all four of the province’s health authorities to varying degrees, Western Health was initially thought to be the least affected. However, upon further investigation, that situation changed as of Wednesday, Mr. Hepditch said, and “the safe thing to do” was to take that health authority offline as well.
The action has reduced much of that health authority to dealing with urgent procedures only, and it will remain that way at least through to Friday, Mr. Haggie said.
Western Health now joins Central Health and Eastern Health in operating largely offline. It also means the cancellation of a swath of regular procedures that are reliant on the main IT system. These procedures range anywhere from orthopedic intakes to pap smears.
COVID-19 test results are also unavailable. Mr. Haggie said positive cases will get a call from public health, but if 72 hours go by without one, people can assume they tested negative.
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