The first trust has already fallen victim to the millennium computer bug, the Audit Commission revealed this week.

In a report on the problem, the Audit Commission says the trust had to revert to a manual hospital appointments system when its patient administration system refused to allow bookings with a date of 2000 or beyond.

But the trust - subsequently named by NHS chief executive Sir Alan Langlands as University College London Hospitals trust - said it had now 'largely fixed' the software problem.

Appearing before the Commons public accounts committee on Monday to answer questions on the year 2000 problem, Sir Alan said that other trusts had encountered problems issuing long-term repeat prescriptions.

He told MPs that regional directors had already begun to intervene in trusts that were failing to meet targets, and insisted that all trusts would meet the NHS Executive's bug-fixing deadlines.

But in a report published yesterday, the Audit Commission says most of the 174 health authorities and trusts it assessed in the six months to March 1998 were behind schedule

The report, A Stitch in Time, says fewer than one-third of HAs and trusts have written strategies for dealing with the IT bug, and more than one- third have yet to identify the extent of the problem.

And it warns: 'Those organisations that have delayed taking action run an increased risk that key services will fail. Organisations or managers may be legally liable for any injuries or losses caused by failures of systems.'

Sir Alan said the pounds320m cost of dealing with the bug in England - including pounds950,000 for each acute trust - would not lead to downgrading of patient care.

'The cost was taken into account when we bid for resources in the current year and part of the NHS's extra pounds1.7bn was set aside to deal with it,' he told MPs. The figure does not include GP systems, but Sir Alan claimed that the problem in GP surgeries was less severe.

See News Focus, page 14.