Health and Social Care Management Students* will certainly want to keep an eye on the fallout from the recent malware attacks affecting the NHS. Could the situation have been prevented, and how can students prepare for a future in which these types of issues increasingly occur?

The Latest NHS Crisis

Friday, 12th May, saw the NHS’s latest issue as the healthcare system fell victim to a global ransomware attack. The event comes just months after the NHS found itself in a ‘winter crisis’ where almost a quarter of A&E patients found themselves waiting more than four hours to be seen by a doctor.

Looking at the facts, it begins to appear unsurprising that the NHS fell victim to an attack of this kind. As the Guardian reported: “In December [2016]… nearly all NHS trusts were using an obsolete version of Windows for which Microsoft had stopped providing security updates in April 2014.”

However, the issue appears to have been preventable; March 2017, saw Microsoft provide a security update addressing the potential weakness of the operating system. The Telegraph commented that the existence of the update raises “questions about why the NHS was still vulnerable.”

It appears that a high proportion of NHS trusts opted against installing the security patch, with as many as 90% still using Windows XP, a now 16-year-old operating system. NHS Digital, effectively the NHS’s central IT department, also addressed the issue prior to the incident; two weeks before the malware attack hit NHS systems, the trust urged staff to apply the security patch through an update.

A Balance Between Current Stability and Potential Future Failures

The balance between the stability of their current operating system and the risk of not updating clearly tipped in favour of the former for the NHS trust decision makers. As the Guardian reported “Expensive, specialist equipment may not work with newer operating systems”. For students and graduates moving into healthcare management, both sides must be considered: does the day-to-day functioning outweigh the possibility of an all-out system failure?

This is potentially the single largest digital issue the NHS has had to deal with; will attitudes towards the digital infrastructure change as a result of the events? Those moving into health and social care management would be well advised to pay heed to the effect of the malware in preparation for potential future attacks.

*Pearson BTEC Level 5 HND Diploma in Health and Social Care (Management)

Sources: The Guardian/The Telegraph

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