Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan has said the Government will set up a helpline for anyone who has been approached and told that their health information is going to be published online.

Speaking during Leaders' Questions, Mr Ryan said the Government is also contacting social media companies urging them not to further share any information that has been put out there.

He said there are a range of concerns about the cyber attack on the Health Service Executive's computer system and centre stage is the likes of the child and family agency Tusla and its information systems which were connected to the HSE network.

Mr Ryan said it was impossible to completely stop data that has already been shared.

"But we can minimise, and protect to the best of our ability, by reducing the sharing of that information," he told Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore.

The minister also said this is an issue of huge consequence for the health system and for individual families.

"We are going to establish a helpline, a confidential crimeline-type system, where people if they are approached, and we have to be careful about some of the rumours around this, it's full of subterfuge and all sorts of unknown, but if anyone is approached by anyone claiming that they have medical or other relevant data, we will provide a crimeline where they can get secure advice in terms of what they need to do," he said in response to a question from Labour leader Alan Kelly.

Mr Ryan said the helpline will also give the Government an indication of the kind of information that is being published.

The decision follows a meeting yesterday between ministers, opposition TDs, health officials, gardaí and cyber security experts.

Cyber attack has caused 'enormous risk' - HSE official

Earlier, the Health Service Executive's National Clinical Adviser for Acute Operations said there is an "enormous risk" across health services following the cyber attack last week which forced a shutdown of the HSE's IT system.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Dr Vida Hamilton said it is a "major disaster" and described it as a stressful time in hospitals.

"There is enormous risk in the system and everything has to be done so slowly and carefully to mitigate that risk."

She said 90% of acute hospitals are substantially impacted by this cyber attack and it is affecting every aspect of patient care.

Dr Hamilton said they are asking patients to be really patient and that emergency, urgent and time sensitive cases are being prioritised at this time.

She said without electronic records for patients it is proving difficult as patients arrive at emergency departments.

"We know nothing about the individual. We have no charts, no record number."

The lack of information impacts elective care, Dr Hamilton added, without being able to look at possible history and trends in a patients' clinical condition.

To cope with the IT system shutdown, she said a process is now in place across hospitals where standalone laptops are attached to printers to generate stickers.

Dr Hamilton explained that to facilitate laboratory tests, it requires a handwritten blood form, a runner to run to the lab, and then manually put in in order to be analysed.

She warned that with such a process now being relied upon, "you can see why there is a delay and risk for error".

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HSE Chief Executive Paul Reid has said possible weaknesses within its IT systems were identified by the organisation three years ago and reports were initiated to identify them.

He was responding to a report in today's The Irish Times that the HSE was warned three years ago of weaknesses in its computer systems.

"If we didn't identify those risks, or they were not identified on our risk register, [it] would be a significant failing", he said.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, he said those specific risks have been identified and a number of actions were taken to address them.

He also said it is far too early to assume if those risks specifically identified are the cause of what happened with the current attack. "I am not saying they won't be or aren't" but added there is no direct link at this stage.


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Restoring IT systems is 'a painstaking process'

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath has said the cyber attack on the Irish State is "a despicable act of cruelty" and that the Government is doing all it can to re-build systems and return services to normal.

He said that it is "a painstaking process" and the Government deeply regrets the enormous personal impact it is having on many thousands of people around the country.

The minister sought to reassure those patients that all is being done to restore IT systems.

He said he is not aware of any legal action arising from the potential publication of people's personal medical information.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr McGrath said that the Government has no intention of paying a ransom to the cyber criminals and there is no guarantee that if it did the criminals would reciprocate or have the capacity to end the damage done to the systems.

"That is not a space we are moving into," he added.

The HSE has been assisting voluntary hospitals in getting services back up and running, but there are significant further risks involved when their IT systems are connected and eventually linked to the national system.

The situation is different across the country, but the HSE has warned that those attending hospital emergency departments for non-essential care will experience long delays as patients requiring urgent care will be prioritised.

It is asking people to consider all care options in advance of attending emergency departments including injury units, GP out-of-hours services, and local pharmacies.

Hospitals are working to get priority systems back online including radiology and diagnostic, maternity and infant care, patient information, chemotherapy and radiation oncology.

Essential services such as blood tests and diagnostic services are taking much longer to operate than usual because they must now use manual processes.

National screening services have advised that BreastCheck, Diabetic RetinaScreen and Bowel Screen will continue unimpeded.

However, they have asked GPs not to proceed with cervical screening appointments this week while they assess any impact on processes along the CervicalCheck pathway.

GPs will advise patients of any change to their appointments.

Health services have been asked to plan for operating essential services within contingency arrangements for the next two weeks.

Larger voluntary hospitals, many based in Dublin, are being prioritised for restoration as soon as possible within that planning process.

Additional reporting George Lee