In the age of advanced technology, where vast amounts of data are accessible, the risk of a website encountering issues such as heavy traffic or hacking is significantly increased.
This risk became a reality for the websites of major public hospitals, polyclinics, and healthcare clusters, as they experienced a disruptive incident on 1 November 2023.
According to The Straits Times, these websites went offline at approximately 9.20am and remained inaccessible for over seven hours.
In the aftermath of this incident, there is a growing curiosity about the root causes that led to these websites becoming unavailable.
Websites of Major Public Hospitals, Polyclinics and Healthcare Clusters Down
On 1 November 2023, users faced difficulties in accessing the websites of several healthcare institutions in Singapore.
These websites include the Singapore General Hospital, Tan Tock Seng Hospital, National University Hospital, Changi General Hospital, and KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.
In addition, the official websites of Sengkang General Hospital, Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, Ng Teng Fong Hospital, and the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) all experienced disruptions.
The issue extended to the websites of all three healthcare clusters.
Fortunately, access to these websites was eventually restored at approximately 4.30pm.
Patient Records Remained Accessible, No Evidence of Hacking
Throughout the disruption, it seems that patient records remained accessible and clinical services proceeded as usual, according to some hospitals and their IT service provider Synapxe.
Synapxe, Singapore’s national healthcare IT provider, responded to the incident in a Facebook post.
Reader: Who is Synapxe?
If you have no clue who Synapxe is, let us give you a brief rundown.
According to its website, Synapxe is Singapore’s national HealthTech agency.
They partner and support MOH in realising national healthcare policies and outcomes, including the public healthcare IT master plan and architecture, enabling technology innovation, and developing HealthTech professionals.
Following the incident, Synapxe promptly responded with a reassuring Facebook post, explicitly stating that they have “found no evidence to indicate that our data and internal networks have been compromised.”
Essentially, their message meant that there was no substantiated evidence supporting the notion of a hacking attempt compromising their data.
This situation calls to mind the SingHealth data leak in 2018, characterised as a “deliberate, targeted, and well-planned cyber attack,” where hackers accessed the personal information of 1.5 million patients.
Over 160,000 individuals were affected in the incident, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and several ministers, who had their outpatient prescription records stolen.
Hospital Treatments Resumed As Per Normal
Despite the disruption of the official websites of major hospitals, patient care proceeded without significant interruptions.
A junior doctor at a public hospital said that it was a regular day for him, and the internet disruption didn’t cause any noticeable impact on his work.
Attempts to access the online portals resulted in a message indicating that data couldn’t be loaded.
However, a SingHealth spokesperson told The Straits Times that patients can still use the Health Buddy app for appointments and billing services despite the Internet access disruption affecting the websites.
Both SingHealth and NUHS emphasised that their clinical services remained unaffected by the outage and that they are actively collaborating with Synapxe to address the issue.
Investigations of Disruption is Ongoing
Synapxe confirmed that investigations into the recent outage are still ongoing.
According to Synapxe, internet connectivity was gradually restored from 4.30pm, with most affected services back online by 5.15pm.
Synapxe reassured that critical aspects of clinical services and operations at public healthcare institutions, such as access to patient records and appointment systems, remained accessible and unaffected during the disruption.
Patient care remained uncompromised throughout the incident.
Similar Disruption That Occurred Recently
The widespread outage that affected the websites of all Singapore public hospitals, polyclinics, and healthcare clusters on 1 November 2023 draws parallels to a recent incident involving Singapore’s largest bank, DBS Bank.
DBS Bank faced multiple disruptive events, the most significant being a 12-hour outage on 14 October 2023.
In response to these disruptions, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) imposed a six-month suspension on non-essential IT changes for DBS Bank. This outage was attributed to a technical issue related to the cooling system of its data centre.