Published: 05/12/2002, Volume112 No. 5834 Page 6

The Modernisation Agency has decided not to send up to 100 of its staff to a conference in Florida this month and is instead allowing only those speaking at the event to attend after concerns about bad publicity, HSJ has learned.

Nineteen people from the agency are now booked to attend the conference of the American Institute of Health Improvement, following an instruction from agency director David Fillingham that only those actually making presentations should attend. The cost of speakers is being met by the IHI.

HSJ understands that around 100 people were originally booked to attend the conference and that an initial request for some people to pull out to reduce the number only elicited a handful of withdrawals. It is understood that a directive withdrawing invitations from most people was then issued last month after concerns that the cost of the trip would cause bad publicity.

HSJ has been told that several people had sought guidance on whether to go, but controls on conference attendance had previously been relaxed and no clear guidance was available.

The conference is seen as the leading modernisation conference, and IHI president Dr Don Berwick is credited with the ideas underpinning much of the modernisation efforts sweeping through the NHS. The IHI has extensive links with the agency.

Agency director of service improvement Michael Scott, who is a speaker at the conference, said:

'I know a number of people have been asked to speak at the conference. It is a compliment to the work of the NHS to be invited by what is the premier organisation [in modernisation] in the world.'

A spokeswoman for the agency denied that around 100 people had been intending to attend and said that of those going, 17 will be giving presentations and the other two are involved in a relevant agency programme: 'I know there were lots of people interested in going, but David Fillingham has made a decision that only people speaking should be going.'