The billion-pound NHS IT strategy has been vigorously defended against accusations that it is failing to deliver results.

The latest delay - in awarding contracts to health authorities to demonstrate electronic health records - 'is not a major hold-up, it's a hiccup, ' said Nigel Bell, chief executive of the NHS Information Authority, on Monday.

Mr Bell was one of a number of senior NHS Executive officials at the opening of the Healthcare IT conference in Harrogate to boost the strategy's credibility.

NHS director of planning Alasdair Liddell said that the strategy, published in September 1998, deserved credit for helping the NHS avoid any millennium bug disruption and was 'absolutely central to the modernisation agenda'.

Mr Liddell also announced an NHS strategy for websites, saying the current system, under which any organisation can develop its own website, is not working.

The information authority is to be rationalised from 23 sites to six.

A computer crash at Bedford Hospital has wiped the appointment records of up to 9,000 patients. Data on follow-up appointments was lost when the main server was hit by a power surge. It will have to be reinstated manually.