Palo Alto Networks, the next-generation security company, has released findings of independent research into the state of cybersecurity within the NHS. Working with Vanson Bourne, 100 NHS IT decision-makers were surveyed on the importance of data security in the wake of recent cyberattacks, preparedness for forthcoming tougher data protection rules, and the development of trust when it comes to how patients digitally interact with the NHS.

The study reveals NHS IT managers’ awareness and understanding of how the Department of Health is planning to radically change cybersecurity requirements for healthcare providers.

The majority of respondents (90 per cent) believe that prioritising cybersecurity in the NHS will unlock the potential of digitalisation to improve patient care. They also agree that cybersecurity investment could enable substantial savings in the long run (83 per cent), saving £14.8 million nationally each year on average. The survey’s respondents estimated that improved cybersecurity would save enough money to allow for an additional 150 doctors and 250 nurses within the NHS.

Training needed to boost prevention culture

All respondents agreed on the importance of keeping data secure. The benefits of cybersecurity are believed to have a wide significance, with 65 per cent believing that it would improve the level of patient trust, almost half (49 per cent) thinking it would streamline processes, and 45 per cent seeing long-term cost-savings as a result.

With recent cyberattacks such as WannaCry affecting front-line services, NHS IT managers say that more can still be done to cultivate a robust and widespread cybersecurity culture within the NHS, through improved training and education.

However, while 41 per cent felt that all staff should receive specific training, only a minority of NHS IT professionals said that front-line staff who accessed IT systems receive cybersecurity training, such as administrators (30 per cent), doctors (11 per cent) and nurses (6 per cent).

Concerns aired on patient trust in NHS data handling

In a sector that is increasingly digitised and reliant on data, patient confidence in how their data is used and stored is essential.

The research found that IT decision-makers mostly think that patients have a good or complete level of trust in how the NHS uses or stores their data (81 per cent and 67 per cent, respectively). However, a quarter of respondents believe that patients have minimal trust in how the NHS stores their data. More than one in 10 (16 per cent) also reckon patients put little trust in how their data could then be used by the NHS. To tackle this trust gap, prioritisation of cybersecurity is key (89 per cent).

When it comes to GDPR, IT decision-makers within the NHS are generally informed about the changes coming into effect in 2018. Eighty-three per cent have had guidance from senior management about compliance, and 95 per cent say they are aware of what they need to do to comply.

The majority of respondents (58 per cent) think that their NHS organisation will be ready for GDPR by May 2018, and 16 per cent even believe the NHS is already compliant. Nonetheless, more than three-quarters (77 per cent) realise that their organisation’s IT systems still need improving to ensure data-handling compliance.

“Digitisation can reap considerable benefits for NHS patients and staff, yet the capacity to save money and improve patient care through more seamless, digital processes is dependent on how the NHS leverages cybersecurity to maintain trust, while capitalising on its exponential data growth.

Preventing successful cyberattacks will be paramount in reducing disruption to medical services and improving patient trust, leading to the greater ability to use data to improve health outcomes.”
Dave Allen, regional vice president, Western Europe, Palo Alto Networks.