Taking the slow road: Scotland's year 2000 problem

Scotland's NHS Management Executive has had to set softer targets than those faced by English trusts. Last June its chief executive, Geoff Scaife, had to admit to the Commons public accounts committee that almost 20 per cent of Scottish trusts were not confident of achieving compliance for all critical systems, even by April 1999.

That brought sharp criticism from the Public Accounts Committee and a demand for absolute compliance by July this year, at the latest. As a result trusts have been under heavy pressure from the Management Executive's national steering group.

Raigmore Hospital in Inverness is a typical Scottish acute trust, with a turnover of£56m and an IM&T support staff of eight. Mike Lister, head of the hospital's year 2000 compliance programme, believes it will meet the July deadline. 'All our top-priority systems, where failure would be immediately life-threatening to patients, are compliant today,' he says. And for less critical systems he is expecting to achieve compliance by July 'at the latest'.

There have been no critical system failures so far. But an advance patient- recall system had to be fixed after proving unable to handle post-2000 dates. Mr Lister believes that, if failures occur, they will probably start long before the millennium eve itself. 'The clocks embedded in chips could have been set in any time zone and could have gained or lost any amount since they started. By now they'll all be recording different times. So our period of vigilance will extend well before and after the midnight hour.'

This means that there is going to have to be some definite guidance on staff leave soon, he

says. 'That has to come from the centre. Locally, none of the trusts wants to be the first to lay down the rules.'

Water is the hospital's biggest worry. 'We've made arrangements with the water authority to have hoses brought in if the supply fails. But we are in a seven-storey tower block with the main storage tank at the top. If the power fails, we need something to pump it up there, so we'll need the fire services to help there,' Mr Lister says.