Underinvestment is link between attacks on NHS computers and unexpected Ludlow home birth

At the time I write this, there are predictions that the attack on NHS and many other computers in organisations worldwide will get worse. The ransomware is exploiting a specific vulnerability in computer operating systems. In the NHS, that vulnerability is chronic lack of investment.

In a seemingly unrelated event last weekend, maternity campaigner Alison Hiles gave birth at her east Ludlow home after Ludlow Maternity Unit was closed at short notice. But the reason that the doors of the maternity unit were shut was yet again the chronic lack of investment in the NHS.

When I visit NHS medical centres, I often see nurses looking at screens that look distinctively old fashioned. This proved to be the NHS’s vulnerability last Friday morning, when at least 48 NHS trusts in England were hit by Wannacry. This software nasty spread over the internet. It threatened the destruction of computer files unless a ransom payment was made in the untraceable digital currency, bitcoin.

This ransom attack exploited the most critical vulnerability in the NHS, a lack of investment.

Huge numbers of NHS staff are staring at screens linked to computers running Windows XP. This now almost ancient computer system is no longer supported. Microsoft warned in August 2013: “There is a sense of urgency because after April 8, 2014, Windows XP… customers will no longer receive new security updates.”

This seems to have been ignored by health secretary Jeremy Hunt and by health minister Philip Dunne. Since the cyberattack, both ministers have gone to ground and have said nothing about the shutdown of critical services in the NHS.[1] This is despite Dunne championing cybersecurity when he was a defence minister.

The health ministers have left home secretary Amber Rudd to plead “lessons must be learnt”. Sky News asked if Jeremy Hunt has been kept in a cupboard. No one in the NHS has so far commented on why the security patch issued by Microsoft on 16 March was not installed.

According to Europol, this cyberattack is not over.

Tuning to better but still rather scary news, a week yesterday, maternity campaigner Alison Miles gave birth to a daughter. The birth was planned to take place in Ludlow Maternity Unit but the unit was yet again closed at the weekend due to staff shortages.

The reason that women are deserting the rural maternity led units (MLUs) is that they need as much certainty as they can get during the uncertain process of giving birth. With MLUs often closed at short notice, it is no surprise that they are opting to give birth in Hereford or Telford.

Alison lives less than a mile from Ludlow Maternity Unit (1.26km). She wasn’t in labour for long but would have easily made it to the East Hamlet site. Going 18 miles (29km) to the nearest open maternity unit in Bridgnorth wasn’t an option.

The events last Sunday point up the key message of the Save Ludlow Maternity Unit campaign. We need 24 hour, 7 day a week maternity services in rural Shropshire, not just in Telford and Shrewsbury.

Sara Meek and Alison Hiles lead Save LMU March last December

This birth went well. But if there had been complications, there would not have been a midwife on hand. We have usually local paramedics nearby but we can’t guarantee that there is medical help available within 30 miles.

Mothers should give birth where they are most confident and comfortable. Everyone I have heard from loves the service at the LMU. But they are put off from booking in to Ludlow because they are not certain that the unit will be open when their labour starts.

There is a shortage of midwives. This situation reflects that of A&E, where our two units are short of consultants, and that of many other hospital centred health services in Shropshire. How are you going to attract health professionals to our county when many parts of its service stagger from one crisis to another and are struggling to bring overspending under control?

Like the cyberattack, the story of the birth of Amelie Hiles illustrates the chromic underinvestment in the NHS.

The Liberal Democrats are clear that the only way that resolve the problems in the NHS is to increase funding through a 1% increase in everyone’s income tax. Labour say they will increase funding through taxing higher earners. Philip Dunne has told meetings in Ludlow that the NHS has enough money. The Greens are promising a cash injection in response to the “national health emergency”.

Notes

[1]. The government does not resign when parliament is dissolved. Government ministers remain in charge of their departments until after the result of the election is known and a new administration is formed.

One thought on “Underinvestment is link between attacks on NHS computers and unexpected Ludlow home birth

  1. Chronic lack of investment … in spite of such an event having been predicted some tume ago.

    But, hey, when did the Cons ever listen to predicitions from “experts” which contradict Con party dogma … even if it means hiding the death or destruction of babies?

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