Compensation call as cyber attack leaves practices facing weeks of backlog

LMC leaders are calling for financial compensation as practices continue to struggle through IT shutdowns and backlogs following last week's NHS cyber attack.

Practices in parts of England were still operating without IT access on Tuesday, while others struggle with sluggish systems and a backlog of work after Friday’s ransomware attack knocked out IT systems across the NHS in parts of England and Scotland.

Derby and Derbyshire LMC reported on Tuesday that as of 11am around half its practices were still offline, with just 71 back up and running. Practices in neighbouring Nottinghamshire were still dealing with disruption, with reports that every practice in Nottingham city was still offline on Tuesday. Local reports suggest practices in Lincolnshire were also still affected. Media reports said practices in north-east England were back online by Tuesday morning.

In Doncaster, south Yorkshire, practice systems were back online after being upgraded but GPs there expect to be dealing with the backlog for the next two weeks, LMC medical secretary Dr Dean Eggitt told GPonline.

Patients at risk

Dr Eggitt met with Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth on Tuesday to explain to him how practices had been affected by the crisis. Mr Ashworth had been ‘shocked’ to hear about the potential risk of patient harm and risk to life posed by the security failure, said Dr Eggitt, but recognised the need for a stable security solution for the NHS.

In most cases practices have been affected by having systems switched off by local NHS IT support as a precaution or to enable patches or updates to be installed, rather than being infected with the ransomware directly. Dr Eggitt said that had plunged practices ‘from a 21st century electronic NHS to a dark ages paper NHS’, with GPs unable to access investigation reports, or patient records and knock-on bottlenecks in practices’ own systems.

Derby and Derbyshire LMC officer Dr Susie Bailey said it could take several weeks for  practices to get through the backlog of work caused by the shutdown. She called for financial remuneration to cover the additional costs practices have been hit with.

‘Practices are already working flat out, and we cannot cope with the additional workload burden from this episode and the resultant backlog,' said Dr Bailey. ‘Practices are financially picking up the pieces from this when it is the other organisations failing to update their software that have put us in this position, as opposed to practices themselves.’

GP workload

Practice staff had worked over the weekend and were continuing to work to resolve the problems and manage the backlog, Dr Bailey said, while the failure also posed a clinical risk. ‘We strongly believe as an LMC that practices should be remunerated for the costs incurred through this episode.’

Dr Eggitt said he ‘absolutely support[ed]’ the call for financial support for practices to receive funding for additional workload over the weekend and to support the expected need for extra locum support to help clear the backlog in the coming days and weeks. ‘There will be real financial consequences to practices, putting aside even the risk to patient life,' said Dr Eggitt.

But, he added, many GPs would be happy if any financial compensation was ploughed into funding IT upgrades to prevent a repeat of the crisis and to keep the NHS safe.

‘The problem is we have a government which refuses to admit they cut the budget and forced commissioners into the untenable position of having to decide to care for patients or upgrade computer systems,' he said.

Dr Bailey said: ‘There seems to be a feeling that this isn't affecting general practice to the same extent, and it clearly is on the ground. It is important that it is underlined what a huge impact it is having on frontline GPs.’ She added that it could take ‘several weeks’ for her practice to clear the backlog.

NHS England and NHS Digital did not respond to a request for an update on how many practices were still affected by the problem. On Monday, NHS Digital said it had been offering round-the-clock support to NHS organisations, along with advice and guidance.

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