May 17, 2020

Autumn Statement: The NHS is Failing, and the Government Has Finally Taken Note

NHS
United Kingdom Healthcare
NHS
Admin
3 min
Chancellor George Osborne holds the budget briefcase for the 2014 Autumn Statement.
This years Autumn Statement outlined ambitious plans to abolish the deficit, introduced a new tax on multinationals and also saw an overhaul of stamp du...

This year’s Autumn Statement outlined ambitious plans to abolish the deficit, introduced a new tax on multinationals and also saw an overhaul of stamp duty. But one note was unforeseen and while generous, worrisome, as well.

It is no news that the NHS has been facing capacity challenges in the face of an aging population – just one week ago, the NHS reported a record 108,301 patients had been admitted for emergency treatment in just seven days.

Six months into the financial year, more than three-quarters of all acute hospitals have a net deficit of £714m, according to The Guardian. Hospitals are also failing to achieve the four-hour target in A&E departments and there has been a steady decline in overall patient care.

Liberal Democrat coalition partners lobbied Chancellor George Osborne last month to pledge £1.5bn to the NHS and Osborne responded by exceeding that demand in his Autumn Statement speech.

An extra £2bn has been made available to the health service in 2015 with an additional £2bn being made available per year for the next five years. The funds will come from a £10bn reduction in spending plans.

"It's because our economy is growing, and we've kept a tight control on the finances, that we can do more for the NHS,” said Osborne in his speech. “I can confirm that we will invest an extra £2bn next year in our front line NHS, across the UK. This will support the day-to-day work of our incredible nurses, doctors and other NHS staff. But it is also a down-payment on the future of our health service."

While the donation from the government is much needed, it is a sign that the government is worried and feels the need to take action. It will take much more than £2bn to fix the system, however.

Simon Stevens, the NHS’ new head, recently published the Five Year Forward View, seeking to refocus the NHS on the key job of improving productivity and modernizing care. While the plan has been widely accepted throughout the NHS, it will take time, preparation and more funding – roughly £8bn more.

Chief economist at the independent health care charity The Health Foundation, Anita Charlesworth, commented on Osborne’s statement, saying, “Halfway through this financial year, the net deficit across England's hospital sector is more than £700 million and 80 percent of acute hospitals are running at a loss. Pressures on our hospitals are not just financial – they are struggling to meet key targets for A&E, cancer and surgery. This is the stark backdrop to George Osborne's announcement of extra cash for the NHS.”

“Despite this additional funding, the NHS is far from out of the woods,” she added. “The current government plans spending cuts of more than £30bn by 2018 to meet its targets to eliminate the deficit. In May 2015, the incoming government will need to reconcile this with the NHS funding requirement of at least £8bn at the end of the decade.”

While Osborne’s announcement of this short-term cash injection into the NHS will fend off a pre-election crisis, whoever wins the general election come May 2015 will have to face the issue of finding the money the NHS truly needs and re-evaluating a deficit reduction plan.

But, for now, let’s celebrate this small victory for the NHS and hope this awareness will bring a brighter future for the state of health care in the UK. 

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Jun 13, 2021

How healthcare can safeguard itself against cyberthreats

#Cybersecurity
#cyberattacks
#digitaltransformation
#covid19
Jonathan Miles
6 min
Jonathan Miles, Head of Strategic Intelligence and Security Research at Mimecast, tells us how the healthcare sector can protect itself from attacks

One of the most fundamental lessons from the COVID crisis is that health should always be a priority.  In a similar fashion to the human body that frequently fights off viruses and foreign invaders that intend to cause it harm, the sector itself is now a prime target for another type of external threat: cyberattacks.

The figures speak for themselves: between December and January this year, hospitals in the UK were at 89% capacity, with 7,000 fewer available beds than there usually are. As the pandemic increased pressure on hospitals, clinics, and research facilities to create a treatment for patients globally, it has left the sector exposed to hackers who, like a virus, have been targeting it relentlessly and evolving their tactics. 

From patient records being held ransom, to fake emails claiming to originate from the UN WHO, the NHS, or vaccine centres, through to attacks on the cold supply chain to find out the secret formula of the COVID vaccine, the healthcare industry is facing constant cyberattacks and struggling to cope. This threat is unlikely to go away anytime soon – and as such, the industry needs to take a proactive, preventative stance to stay safe in a dynamic digital world. 

Going digital 

The responsive nature of healthcare – particularly of hospitals – means that efficiency is crucial to the industry’s standard operations. To support this, the sector has been embracing technological advancements that can improve the quality of work, enabling staff to meet pressing deadlines, and enhancing patient care. For example, the industry has been digitising records and improving its ways of working through digital means over the past few years. 

This shift is critical to offer high quality patient care; yet, it also means the sector has become more dependent on IT, which can come with a risk if cybersecurity processes employed are deemed as inadequate. 

Without the correct security measures in place, the desired efficiency gains realised, can be easily lost in a heartbeat. Simply put, an elementary glitch in the system can have a tremendous ripple effect on many areas, from accessing patient records and conducting scans, to maintaining physical security and protecting the intellectual property of experimental treatment development.

To prevent this, healthcare organisations need to ensure they’re considering cybersecurity as part of their overall digital transformation strategy – and setting the right foundations to create a culture where safety goes hand in hand with patient care. 

Strengthening defences

Before implementing cybersecurity process, healthcare organisations need to assess the potential risks they face. Depending on how much confidential data the trust has, where it is stored, who has access to it and via which means, the cybersecurity strategy and associated solutions will change. 

It’s fair to say that a medical device start-up where all employees have a corporate-sanctioned laptop and access data via a VPN will have radically different needs to a large hospital with hundreds of frontline workers connecting to the hospital’s Wi-Fi using their personal device. 

These requirements will pale by comparison to a global pharmaceutical giant with offices in multiple locations, a large R&D department researching new treatments for complex diseases and a fully integrated supply chain. Considering the existing setup and what the organisations is looking to achieve with its digital transformation strategy will therefore have an immediate impact on the cybersecurity strategy.

Despite this, there are fundamentals that any organisation should implement: 
Review and test your back-up policy to ensure it is thorough and sufficient – By checking that the organisation’s back-up is running smoothly, IT teams can limit any risks of disruption in the midst of an incident and of losing data permanently.

In our recent State of Email Security report, we found that six out of ten organisations have been victims of ransomware in 2020. As a result, afflicted organisations have lost an average of six days to downtime. One third of organisations even admitted that they failed to get their data back, despite paying the ransom. In the healthcare industry, this could mean losing valuable patient records or data related to new treatments – two areas the sector cannot afford to be cavalier about.

Conduct due diligence across the organisation’s supply chain – Healthcare organisations should review their ways of working with partners, providers and regulatory institutions they work with in order to prevent any weak link in their cybersecurity chain. Without this due diligence, organisations leave themselves exposed to the risks of third party-led incidents. 

Roll out mandatory cybersecurity awareness training - Healthcare organisations shouldn’t neglect the training and awareness of their entire staff – including frontline workers who may not access the corporate network on a regular basis. According to our State of Email Security report, only one fifth of organisations carry out ongoing cyber awareness training.

This suggests it is not widely considered as a fundamental part of most organisations cyber-resilience strategy, despite the fact many employees rely on their organisation’s corporate network to work. By providing systematic training, healthcare organisations can help workers at all levels better understand the current cyberthreats they face, how they could impact their organisation, the role they play in defending the networks, and develop consistent, good cybersecurity hygiene habits to limit the risks of incidents. 
Consider a degree of separation – Information and Operational Technology (IT and OT) networks should be separated.

Although mutually supported and reliance on each other, employees shouldn’t be accessing one via the other. This should be complemented by a considered tried and tested contingency and resiliency plan that allows crucial services to function unabated should there be a compromise. Similarly, admin terminals should not have internet access to afford a degree of hardening and protection for these critical accounts.

As the sector becomes a common target for fraudulent and malicious activity, putting cybersecurity at the core of the organisation’s operations is critical. It will help limit the risks of disruption due to cyberattacks, reduce time spent by the cybersecurity team to resolve easily avoidable errors, and ensure that institutions can deliver patient care, safe in the knowledge that their networks are safe.  

Fighting future threats

With technology continuing to change the face of healthcare, the surface area and vectors available for attacks by malicious actors is constantly increasing. With the introduction of apps, networked monitoring devices, and a need for communication, the attack vector is ever expanding, a trend that needs to be monitored and secured against.

To prevent any damage to patients, staff, or the organisation they are responsible for, healthcare leaders must put security front and centre of their digital transformation strategy. Only then can the sector harness the full benefits of technology. Doing this should include implementing cybersecurity awareness training to challenge misconceptions around security, encourage conversation, and to ensure employee knowledge of the security basics and threats faced. 

This ultimately allows healthcare organisations to do what they do best: provide the highest standard of patient care, safe in the knowledge that their operations, patients, and data are safe.

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