One of Scotland's flagship hospitals has announced that it will suspend elective surgery for a month over the millennium, in a move condemned by unions and politicians.

The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, run by Lothian University Hospitals trust, will stop admitting patients for routine surgery for four weeks from 15 December.

The trust said last week that this is to prepare for the millennium Hogmanay celebrations. It expects demand to exceed last new year, when 100 patients were admitted within a 24-hour period and some were left waiting for up to nine hours on trolleys for treatment.

A spokesperson said: 'Our year 2000 plans require us to have extra staff on duty and extra shifts in place over the new year period to cope with the extra workload.

'Reducing activity before Christmas will allow staff to have a rest before the Christmas and new year period.'

But David Forbes, Unison professional officer for Lothian, said: 'This is not being done for purely clinical reasons.

'I believe that there is some financial element in this decision, and the trust is attempting to save money.

'It could also be about trying to build up a pool of cash to fund proposed bonus payments for staff working over the millennium Hogmanay.

'The staff I have spoken to have had no explanation that was even remotely rational about why such a long break is being taken.'

Scottish National Party spokesperson on health Kay Ullrich said: 'It would appear this trust is acknowledging there is a crisis by having to close one of the busiest surgical departments in Scotland for a month.

'There has to be a supposition that this is cost cutting and is indicative of real problems at this trust - and presumably others as well. This is a sign of New Labour being caught out by reality.'

The trust insists that the move will not impact on waiting lists.

'We are ahead of target in our drive to bring down waiting lists, ' the spokesperson said. 'By 'over performing' during the summer, reduced elective admissions in the winter will not affect our desired end-of-year waiting list position.'

It insists the plans 'have nothing to do with attempts to save money or reduce overtime costs'.

But one source told HSJ that the trust is facing increasing financial pressures, partly due to changes introduced earlier this year that stop it generating income from short-term investments on the money market.

Year 2000 plans 'on target' The Audit Commission says local authorities and the NHS have made 'significant progress' towards beating the millennium bug, although 'the NHS and the emergency services remain further ahead with their preparations'.

The second update of its Stitch in Time report coincided with a Department of Health announcement that no NHS organisations now have 'red' ratings, showing unsatisfactory progress on millennium issues.

The Audit Commission says organisations should now:

finish testing systems and equipment;

make sure 'business-critical trading partners are ready';

look at millennium staffing;

finalise contingency plans and inform the public of progress.

Last week Margaret Beckett, the Cabinet minister responsible for co-ordinating government action on the millennium bug, said nine key sectors - including water and telecommunications - have completed plans for the year 2000 date change.

Time Waits for No One: facing the challenge of the year 2000 date change . Audit Commission publications. 0800-502030.£15.