News

Four trust chairs will be summoned to meet health minister Baroness Hayman after failing to make satisfactory progress on their year 2000 preparations.

Returns issued by the Department of Health last week showed that 99 per cent of NHS organisations are now rated as 'satisfactory' or 'making good progress' towards readiness for the millennium.

The four 'unsatisfactory' trusts were named at the Commons public accounts committee by NHS chief executive Sir Alan Langlands as: Luton and Dunstable Hospital trust, Mid Essex Hospital Services trust, Oxfordshire Ambulance trust and Rochdale Healthcare trust.

The figures show the position at 31 May this year. The NHS has an end of September deadline to ensure that all systems and equipment are compliant or that effective contingency plans are in place.

PAC member Richard Page asked Sir Alan what he would regard as a 'severe risk' from non-compliance. Sir Alan said it would be 'something that caused material destruction, likely to cause danger to patients or staff'. He cited a lift breaking down while carrying a road accident victim to theatre as an example.

Asked if such risks had been found by the year 2000 compliance programme, Sir Alan said they had. He described the May returns as 'very satisfactory' and said many of the remaining problems related to management systems and documentation.

William Randell, year 2000 project manager at Luton and Dunstable Hospital trust, said it was working 'very hard' on compliance and expected to move from 'red' to 'amber' status by the end of the month.

Mid Essex Hospital Services trust said it had been 'red-lighted' on six out of 43 indicators, mainly relating to information technology. It said work in clinical areas had been completed and it expected to have 'amber' status by the end of July.

Rochdale Healthcare trust chief executive Robert Clegg said 'concerns in Rochdale largely related to documentation of the work going on' but a revised action plan had been agreed with North West regional office.

No one at Oxfordshire Ambulance Service trust was available for comment.

Sir Alan was at the PAC to answer questions about the NHS summarised accounts for 1997-98. These showed a major improvement in financial performance and Sir Alan said more up-to-date returns showed health authorities were actually£17m in surplus.

The NHS Confederation issued a parliamentary briefing for the hearing, arguing that 'the future is a much more significant issue'.

Parliamentary and public affairs officer Neil Mulcock said efficiency targets were a particular concern.

MP Andrew Lore asked Sir Alan for an assurance that cost savings were not having an impact on patient care. Sir Alan said there were still variations in costs between health organisations and room for further savings, although he acknowledged that finding further savings would be difficult.

See news focus, pages 12-13.