NHS cyber attack: 'Patients scuppered without pharmacy'

 'ransomware' attack GP surgeries access patient records, news for pharmacists
The 'ransomware' attack meant some GP surgeries were not able to access patient records

Pharmacists have told C+D how they were left to pick up the pieces after a global cyber attack left many GP surgeries unable to send prescriptions.

The global 'ransomware' attack which began last Friday (May 12) resulted in patients being diverted away from hospitals, operations cancelled, and clinicians unable to access patient records or use phone lines, according to various hospital trusts.

GP surgeries were also left struggling to deliver services to patients, with the Royal College of General Practitioners reporting that repeat prescriptions and appointment booking systems were disrupted.

Although community pharmacies were not directly affected by the initial cyber attack, C+D has received an increasing number of reports of pharmacies stepping in and managing emergency medicine supplies.

C+D took a closer look at what different pharmacies around the country have been doing to support their local GP practices – and patients – during this time of crisis.

“Surgeries told patients to come to the pharmacy”

Usman Khalid, pharmacist at Woodlands Pharmacy in Washington, County Durham, told C+D all GP surgeries within a five-mile radius were affected, as they cancelled their appointments and were reduced to issuing handwritten emergency prescriptions only.

“I spoke to all the surgeries first thing in the morning and got delivery drivers to relay a message to say: anything we can do to help, we will,” Mr Khalid said. “As long as a surgery can verify a prescription, we’ll do it.”

"We’re quite a busy pharmacy anyway," he said. "We deal with quite a high [dispensing] volume, and because of that we were able to do a lot of emergency supplies – it was just over 100 items in the end."

It got to the point where surgeries were telling patients to come to the pharmacy, Mr Khalid added. “Without us, they would have been scuppered.”

“Pharmacy is good at stepping up to the mark”

Nick Hunter, chief officer of Nottinghamshire local pharmaceutical committee (LPC) told C+D that GP practices in the area were told not to switch on their systems, to avoid getting 'infected'.

“We have an emergency supply scheme that has been commissioned by NHS England Midlands and East, and despite the [government's urgent supply service], they kept it in place,” Mr Hunter said.

Patient awareness of the situation was raised via local radio and TV – with the public being advised to go to their pharmacy first.

“[Nottinghamshire] did about 400 emergency supplies,” Mr Hunter said. “Pharmacy is really good at stepping up to the mark when it matters.”

“Patients were worried but we coped with every request”

Tony Schofield, owner of Flagg Court Pharmacy in South Shields, also described how GPs referred patients to his pharmacy, as their systems were switched off.

“Thankfully patients were becoming aware of the situation and were understanding – they were worried, but we coped with every request,” he said. “On Monday, we ascertained that the connection to the summary care record was safe.”

"Workload nosedived as electronic transfer of prescriptions wasn’t working," Mr Schofield said. "But at least this helped with the stress."

Although the pharmacy had been assured that GP systems would be switched on from 4pm, Mr Schofield said it was “very patchy and slow”.

“GPs, their staff and my staff have been fantastic,” he added.

How others experienced the cyber attack
Did your pharmacy step up during the cyber attack?

Chandra Nathwani, Community pharmacist

Any ideas how Hub and Spoke OR THE NEW EMERGENCY  supply scheme would work under these circumstances? Any estimates of cost to NHS if 3000 pharmacies were not there to "step up to the mark"? Is there a case to revisit closure of pharmacies due to cuts in pharmacy funding? What are the "business continuity" plans for the NHS under these circumstances? 



Ben Merriman, Community pharmacist

Normal FP10, honestly, I'd probably just endorse what I'd given (i.e capsules) and not worry about it.  Of course, had that been on an FP10D, it shouldn't be dispensed at all but returned to the prescriber as it's not on the dental formulary.  

Michael Franks, Community pharmacist

It is time that the regulations were changed to allow us to correct minor errors on scripts without having to refer patients back to the prescriber. GPS have forgotten how to hand write scripts .

Having to do them in bulk will result in many minor errors. They altered the CD rules to allow us to add words or figures when missing but now it has to go further.

We were lucky that this was not a national disaster. One person registering a website saved us.

We now need the regulations changed so we can insert anything on a script and it be accepted. The pharmacist having  to sign and date the alteration and in doing so accept responsibility for it.

Why am I suggesting it now ? The first script I had handwritten was for tabs amoxicillin 500mg. 

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