Cancer patient speaks out after cyber attack delays treatment by months


A young woman who returned home to Ireland after Australian doctors gave her only five months to live suffered ‘disaster after disaster’ under her care due to the HSE cyberattack.

Meabh Feerick, only 25, and mother of 3-year-old Noah, brought home cancer treatment scans on a USB drive, but doctors were unable to access the device due to the impact of the cyber attack that crippled HSE systems for months. This meant they couldn’t gauge how quickly the cancer was getting worse.

Then, after having re-tested at Mayo University Hospital (MUH), she was transferred to Galway University Hospital (GUH), but doctors were unable to access either series of analyzes.

“I have my son to think about …”

She called the delays “frightening” and said: “It is horrible to say that when I come home to my own country, this is happening.”

Ms Feerick said there is no cure for the aggressive genetic melanoma she suffers from, but she desperately wants to know how much time she spends with her son:

Everything has been affected. My scans are what tell us how far we are on the path. When they’re not over, then I’m in the dark. It’s hard for me, because I have my son to think about.

Ms. Feerick speaks out because she desperately wants to change the system.

“If I can make a difference somewhere, I can be reassured. I’m haunted that a child or an elderly person has to go through this same system, ”she said.

“My scans are what tell us how far we are on the path. When they haven’t finished I’m in the dark, ”says Meabh Feerick pictured with her son Noah in better times.

Rachel Morrogh, director of advocacy for the Irish Cancer Society (ICS), warned that many people could be affected by the disruption to health systems in the past 18 months:

Our biggest concern is that the issues highlighted by Maebh Feerick could become all too common since the start of the pandemic and the cyberattack that followed.

Ms Feerick was diagnosed in December following delays as community doctors didn’t realize how sick she was. After a series of surgeries and treatments in Sydney, doctors found that she did not have long to live and advised her to return home quickly.

However, when Ms Feerick arrived in mid-June, she entered an HSE under attack by cyber hackers, as well as the impact of Covid-19.

When she was seen at MUH in mid-July, she said: “They said they had no imagery, they said they would have to start this whole process over. I was told that whatever I brought home was more or less unnecessary. I was pushed back further.

Hospital could not access scans due to hack

She was told new scans could take up to two months, but she had them done earlier as a patient in Mayo when her condition worsened. When her care was transferred to Galway’s largest hospital, she was devastated to learn in mid-August that they could not access scans performed by their partner hospital.

“The hospitals would surely have a daily courier service. It’s been months now since the cyberattack, you’d think they’d have a system, ”she said.

New scans, some of which were only seen by her oncologist last week, show cancer continues to spread through her bones. Her spine is affected and there are fears for her brain, she said.

“I want to stress that there is a long wait for everything,” she said. “People are waiting for scans, waiting for results, waiting for appointments, everything is waiting.”

Priority systems “are back online”

Each nurse appears to do the work of five people, she said, praising the staff who treated her at both hospitals and at Mayo Hospice.

A spokeswoman for the Saolta hospital group said they could not comment on the individual care.

Meabh Feerick plays with his son Noah.
Meabh Feerick plays with his son Noah.

“The priority within the HSE is to ensure that patient services are fully functional,” she said.

“Most Priority Systems” are back online, including radiology and diagnostics.

The Irish Cancer Society fears that the health service is “losing hard-earned gains” as a result of improvements made to cancer services so far.

“We are sorry to hear of Maebh’s experience since returning to Ireland and our hearts go out to her and her son Noah,” Ms. Morrogh said.

“Clinicians tell us that they are seeing more advanced cancers because of delays in accessing services.

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