The contrast could hardly be greater. At the same time as tens of thousands of people prepare to hit the streets of Edinburgh to party into 2000 to the sounds of pop stars Texas, Del Amitri, The Mavericks and, especially for those with long memories, the Bay City Rollers, staff at the city's Royal Infirmary will be busy laying out plastic sheeting and mattresses in anticipation of the later arrival of those who indulge rather too liberally in the Hogmanay spirit.

An accident and emergency department which normally sees around 250 patients in 24 hours is geared up to expect at least 1,000 people through the doors on 31 December, says Edinburgh Royal Infirmary spokeswoman Rosie Hewitt.

'We will have three times the usual number of nurses on duty and twice the number of doctors, ' she says, 'and the increased staffing will also cover a longer period than the normal new year holiday of 31 December and 1 January.'

In a bid to be 'one of the most exciting places on earth' to celebrate the new millennium, Edinburgh is staging over seven days events ranging from pop and classical concerts to street theatre, ceilidhs, history pageants and a torchlit procession.

At least 180,000 people have tickets for the city centre celebrations, says a City of Edinburgh council spokesperson. This limit was set after the experience of Hogmanay 1996 when between 250,000 and 300,000 people besieged Princes Street, the Royal Mile and the Mound.

Besides the 180,000 with passes, however, thousands more will attend 'fringe' events in the surrounding areas, but the council is confident that the health and welfare needs of all will be satisfactorily met. 'Working with the various sectors of the health service has played a crucial part in our preparations, ' says the spokesperson.

'As part of the overall co-ordination a medical and welfare planning group has met regularly in the run-up to Hogmanay, and this group, chaired by the council's safety manager, has representatives from Lothian health board, all the local trusts, the ambulance service and first-aid teams.'

Messages in local newspapers and the official Hogmanay programme will warn revellers not to bring their 'new year cheer' in bottles, to dress for the weather, to follow instructions given by the police and stewards on duty and to carry some identification.

Edinburgh Royal Infirmary will have two extra wards open for Hogmanay - one with 32 trolley spaces will be open for 10 days. A second ward will be open for two days for 'the assessment and monitoring' of the high-risk group of people who have consumed considerable amounts of alcohol, says Ms Hewitt. Mattresses will be put down on the floor 'so people can't fall out of bed and hurt themselves'.

Extra laundry, catering and portering staff will be on duty over the period, and there will be a police presence in the A&E department - to cope with any less-than-jolly drunks - on the nights of 30 and 31 December and all day on 1 January.

Ms Hewitt is confident the Royal Infirmary will cope.

'Last year we saw 600 people in A&E over Hogmanay and coped well with that, ' she says.

We will cope: readiness in Aberdeen At Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, staff will be expecting many people with alcohol-related injuries who will need to sleep off the effects of their drinking once they have been treated in A&E. The department has its own 16-bed ward and there will be a 36-bed ward available for those 'who need a bit of tender, loving care', says spokeswoman Edith Clark.

Most of the city's celebrations will focus on Union Street, where crowds of between 60,000 and 70,000 are expected.

There will be three main musical events on separate stages along the length of the street 'to spread people out, rather than concentrating them in one place', says Aberdeen city council spokesman Bill Phillips.

Donny Monroe from RunRig, Big Country and tribute band Abba Gold will all be performing along with Channel 5 cult group Massive Head. All the events are free so people are expected to come into the city from quite a distance.

'We will cope with whatever is thrown at us, ' says Ms Clark. 'If the weather is freezing or if it rains a great deal there won't be such great numbers but we have to be prepared.'

Extra staff, including the trust chief executive, are rostered for the 10-hour shift over Hogmanay and more staff than would be usual will come in right up to 5 January.

If millennium eve proves to be quieter than expected, however, staff will be stood down early, says Ms Clark. They can also watch the celebrations during their breaks on two widescreen televisions, and a running buffet and soft drinks will be provided to encourage a party atmosphere for staff. Even if there is heavy snow the hospital will cope, adds communications manager Alan Reid.

'Our staff are very innovative and will always find ways into work. We have very good relationships with local minibus and taxi firms, ' he says. 'Last winter was a particularly bad one, but we coped. One member of staff even walked two miles through the snow to the main road to get a lift.'

Confidence through planning: the ambulance story Although some planning has to be for the unknown, most of the Hogmanay events across Scotland can be planned for, says Tom Pickett, resourcing and manpower planning manager with the Scottish Ambulance Service, who has special responsibility for millennium planning. 'For example, the Hogmanay celebrations in Edinburgh have been planned for and will be manned separately from our normal response to the public. It is effectively a managed incident, ' says Mr Pickett. 'We can estimate hour by hour what the ebb and flow of the crowd will be.'

Historically, the Hogmanay peaks for the ambulance service are between 7pm-11pm on 31 December, then there is a lull around midnight 'as everyone is too busy partying', before the next peak between 2am-3am on 1 January, then 5am-6am and mid-morning.

'This includes people who have had too much to drink the night before, fallen asleep and wake up to discover they have an injury, ' says Mr Pickett.

The likely extra demand on ambulance services by the public over Hogmanay has been calculated by adding 25 per cent to last year's new year activity figures. The ambulance service will also be in constant close contact with individual hospitals.

'Hospital activity changes so much at Christmas and new year with ward closures, different outpatient activity and so on, ' Mr Pickett explains. But he also stresses that the non-emergency services are as important as the emergency services. 'People still need to get to day hospitals for treatment.'

If the weather is cold and icy ambulance staff can expect to bring lots of people with lower limb fractures into hospital.

'Broken ankles are not necessarily caused by falling down through over-indulgence, ' he says.

But many minor casualties will be dealt with without the need for a hospital visit, he adds. At the Edinburgh event, three triage tents with nurses and doctors on site will take pressure off local A&E units, and GP practices will be open to provide triage centres around Stirling to deal with the large numbers expected to see in the millennium at Stirling Castle.

Weather or not: Y2K in the Outer Hebrides Even in mid-June the rain in the Outer Hebrides can be horizontal, lashing the barren, tree-less landscape, so the weather could well be the deciding factor for many people as to whether they turn up to watch the fireworks display in Stornoway, promised by the Western Isles council.

Two ceilidhs will also take place in the town centre which, according to Alistair MacRae, chair of the council's arts and leisure committee, could attract some 6,000 to 7,000 people. 'Last year we had fireworks for the first time and it was a great success, ' says Mr MacRae, 'with over 3,000 people turning up. But then the weather was pretty good.'

In preparation the Western Isles Hospital will have extra staff, including reinforced medical rotas and a dedicated 24-bed ward available for casualties. The hospital has also established a first-aid station in the town centre with the local Red Cross, adds deputy chief executive Brian Liddle.

No funds for fun: Christmas past From the minutes of Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary, December 1892 'The Lady Superintendent was authorised to arrange for a special dinner being supplied to the patients on new year's day. It was agreed to allow the Lady Superintendent to arrange for a new year's entertainment for the nurses but the Committee (of Management) could not see their way to authorise any allowance from the Funds of the Institution for the purpose, it having to be understood that the funds were to be raised by private subscriptions.

Miss Hamilton (the Lady Superintendent) was instructed to have one of the pigs killed and pickled.'