Manslaughter probe as patient dies after Düsseldorf hospital hacking attack

German prosecutors said Friday they were launching an investigation into involuntary manslaughter after a patient died in the aftermath of a hacking attack on a hospital.

Manslaughter probe as patient dies after Düsseldorf hospital hacking attack
Archive photo shows Düsseldorf University Hospital. Photo: DPA

If charges are brought, it would be a rare case of hacking with fatal consequences.

Düsseldorf University Hospital's IT systems were knocked offline in the attack last Thursday, meaning it became disconnected from the ambulance network.

A critically ill woman was therefore admitted to a hospital further away in Wuppertal and died shortly afterwards, the Düsseldorf hospital revealed this week.

Because of the longer distance that the ambulance had to travel, there was an hour's delay before medical staff were only able to treat her.

Prosecutors in Cologne have taken over the investigation and are now probing unknown suspects on suspicion of manslaughter, prosecutor Christoph Hebbecker said Friday.

“We are now investigating over involuntary manslaughter, computer sabotage and attempted blackmail,” he told AFP.

He added that investigations are in particular looking into “whether there is a criminal connection between the hacking and the death of this person”.

The hackers exploited a “weakness in an application” to encrypt several servers, the hospital said Thursday, but there was no evidence that “data had been irretrievably destroyed”.

Isabel Pfeiffer-Poensgen, science and culture minister for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, said Thursday there was evidence to suggest the attack had been aimed at Düsseldorf's Heinrich Heine University (HHU).

Pfeiffer-Poensgen said a threatening letter had been found on a HHU server.

According to the hospital, however, there was no concrete ransom demand.

Access to the data encrypted during the attack has now been restored and systems are being gradually brought back into operation.

Germany has seen several hacker attacks on research and higher education institutions in recent months, including the University of Giessen, the University of Cologne and the Ruhr University Bochum.

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Norway saw fewer hospital patients in 2020 despite pandemic

Fewer patients were treated in hospital in 2020 than in 2019, with Covid-19 being the reason for the drop, according to Statistics Norway.

Norway saw fewer hospital patients in 2020 despite pandemic
Illustration photo by Audun Braastad / AFP)

The decline in patients has been largest for those awaiting planned treatments, but the number of people requiring immediate attention also dropped too, according to Statistics Norway figures.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, hospitals had to prioritise differently in 2020 as a result of the increased need for intensive care units.

“2020 was a year marked by pandemics and restrictions. In many places hospitals have had to prioritise differently due to the coronavirus, and perhaps particularly as the result of the increased need for intensive care,” the report said.

This has contributed to a decrease in the number of patients in hospitals at all levels of care.

The number of patients with 24-hour stays decreased by 7 percent. The total number of days spent in hospital fell by 11 percent or 380,000 fewer days in a hospital bed in 2020 compared to 2019.

Hospital stays lasting at least 24 hours include both planned and unplanned visits. In 2020 planned visits accounted for 29 percent of all visits, which is a decrease of 16 percent from the previous year, while visits for immediate appointments decreased by 3 percent.

READ ALSO: Norwegian senior medic calls for geographical division of Covid-19 restrictions

The figures show a decline for almost all diagnostic groups, but cancer patients had a smaller decline than other groups.

Planned treatment of various forms of cancer decreased by 8 percent, but acute help for tumours saw an increase of 11 percent.

This reverses a trend of numbers of patients in hospitals increasing year on year. The increases had primarily been driven by patients at outpatient clinics.