Published: 05/12/2002, Volume112 No. 5834 Page 9

The NHS has dealt with over 300 anthrax scares since the events of 9-11, NHS chief executive Nigel Crisp has revealed.

He told the Commons public accounts committee that the service had coped well with a large number of hoax anthrax spore incidents, following scares in the US. He said: 'Since 11 September, we have had many, many 'whitepowder incidents' that were very, very well handled.' Mr Crisp later told HSJ the NHS had had to deal with over 300 incidents, some needing decontamination, involving white powder.

And he insisted that the NHS was ready to deal with emergencies and major incidents.

Challenged by the committee on the apparent lack of readiness demonstrated in a report by the National Audit Office last month, Mr Crisp said many trusts were ready, but did not consider themselves well-prepared according to the NAO's criteria.He said: 'There is a degree of subjectivity in the way people have answered these questions.'

Mr Crisp said a 'formal audit' to identify problems would be completed by April, when the new Health Protection Agency launches.