Waikato DHB cyber attack: Radiation therapy resumes for cancer patients

Radiation therapy is resuming at Waikato Hospital.
Radiation therapy is resuming at Waikato Hospital. Photo credit: RNZ

Radiation therapy for cancer patients has resumed at Waikato DHB after its supporting system was restored and machines put back online following a cyberattack. 

The first treatment began at 8am on Monday with 22 patients scheduled for sessions at Waikato hospital throughout the day.

The DHB suffered a ransomware attack on May 18 which crashed its IT systems including computers and phones, affecting Waikato, Thames, Tokoroa, Te Kuiti and Taumarunui hospitals.

Radiation systems have been unable to operate since with cancer patients being sent to Auckland, Tauranga, or Wellington based on need.

Patient and staff data was also leaked in the "national scale disaster" with work being done to restore systems for the past three weeks. 

On Tuesday the DHB's chief executive Kevin Snee confirmed half of its servers had been restored and dismissed the idea that paying a ransom would have been easier than having its entire computer system out of action for so long.

Snee said resuming radiation was an "important milestone" for the many staff members who have been working non-stop on the restoration of the DHB's systems.

"Being able to again provide this important service for our community here in Waikato is a great reward for all the hard work of our IT, support and clinical teams." 

He added the service would not immediately be operating at full capacity with some patients still receiving care in Tauranga and Wellington.

"We have four machines and will begin with two this week while we keep a number of our staff in Tauranga and Wellington to ensure continuity of care for those patients who were sent to those areas. 

Once our staff and patients are repatriated to Hamilton, which is expected over the next two weeks, we'll be able to have all four up and running." 

He said the inpatient management system and diagnostic services across the radiology and laboratory services are also expected to be up and running later this week. 

Having radiation therapy and other cancer services back online was the key priority for the DHB in what the Ministry of Health's IT and digital head Shane Hunter has described as the most "significant" cyber-attack New Zealand has seen.

"We know two years ago we had a PHO (primary health organisation) that was significantly attacked but it's pretty clear this is quite a significant attack on the DHB.

"By global standards, I understand this is not as large as some have been in overall scale but the reality it has had a significant impact on the DHB."