By Melissa Cunningham and Benjamin Preiss
A number of rural health services in the state’s north-east were forced to shut down their IT systems due to a malware virus.
The Department of Health and Human Services confirmed on Wednesday a virus was detected in handful of desktop computers at two health services in the Hume region and staff forced to turn of IT systems for a short period to isolate it.
A spokesman for the department refused to confirm where the infected computers were located, but it is understood IT systems at three rural health services were momentarily shut down as a precaution.
He stressed, however, patient care was not affected and IT systems were fully operational again by early Wednesday afternoon.
It is the latest cyber scare to engulf the state’s health IT systems, reigniting fears over patient information security.
Computer networks in at least seven major regional hospitals were left in lockdown after a widespread ransomware attack shut booking systems on October 1, delaying dozens of non-urgent surgeries across the state.
Barwon Health’s clinical information systems were restored last week, but staff email remains down.
Meanwhile, staff at Colac Area Health have been unable to access their emails for almost a month.
Premier Daniel Andrews conceded at the time it could take weeks to secure the affected networks and clear out the virus, but said there was no evidence to suggest personal patient information had been compromised by the ransomware attack.
Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said the systems were shutdown as a “precaution” and clinical services were not affected.
“This is the system doing its job,” Ms Mikakos said.
She said the government was rolling out new security programs to protect the state’s healthcare IT system from another cyber attack.
Opposition health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier said hospitals had been forced to make cuts to other services to pay for “Band-Aid patches” to outdated online security systems.
She accused the Andrews government of allowing hackers to compromise patients’ privacy “which has already delayed surgeries in our hospitals”.
Earlier this month, The Age reported key Victorian health services were warned four months ago they were in serious danger of a cyber attack but have not yet completed the job of securing patients’ private information.
Barwon Health, along with the Royal Children’s Hospital, the Royal Eye and Ear Hospital and the Health Department itself were all warned in May by the Victorian Auditor-General that their systems were vulnerable to cyber attacks and patient data was at risk.
The Department of Health previously said its work on Auditor-General’s recommendations was still not complete.
“Many [recommendations] will be complete by the end of the year,” a departmental spokesman said this month. “Many of the actions were under way prior to the [Auditor-General’s] report.”
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