The NHS Executive has hit back at parliamentary criticism of its year 2000 bug efforts, claiming that recent reports from trusts and health authorities show it is 'on course to meet its requirements'.

All NHS bodies have to make quarterly returns of their progress towards year 2000 compliance. The Executive says the latest reports, for June, show that the number of NHS bodies making 'satisfactory or good progress' towards their debugging targets has risen to

94 per cent, from 91 per cent in March.

According to the Executive's head of IM&T, Frank Burns, the debugging programme is 'the most rigorous monitoring system ever for a non-clinical problem' in the NHS.

The Department of Health now estimates the total estimated spend on the programme (in England alone) at 312m, including a reserve for the replacement of unfixable devices. This, it says, is close to earlier forecasts - though at least one region, Anglia and Oxford, said that most of its trusts and all of its HAs have 'significantly revised upwards their estimates'. But South Thames said its estimates had fallen - though slow responses from suppliers remain frustrating and may lead to unnecessary replacements of equipment.

The NHS Confederation is still demanding that the DoH should provide extra funding earmarked to solve the problem. This is in case the turn of the century brings a series of external disasters that could overload the service.

'We cannot know what demands will be placed on the NHS,' said confederation chief executive Stephen Thornton. 'Without guarantees of compliance from the public utilities, we could face unprecedented demand.'

But the confederation has accepted reassurances from the Medical Devices Agency that medical equipment failure is unlikely to be life-threatening, with less than 1 per cent of devices being affected. MDA chief executive Alan Kent told trusts and HAs at the end of July that 'few of the small number of date-aware devices will be affected in a way that has implications for patient or user safety'. The MDA had so far not found any equipment that would fail dangerously, it says.

Now, says the confederation, the most important unsolved problem is helping HAs to validate all the equipment used by GPs.

The regional returns can be found on the NHS website at www.imc.exec.nhs.uk

Trade union Unison claims that the year 2000 bug could cost the Scottish NHS between 56m and 90m.

A Unison survey shows that 75 per cent of Scotland's trusts could not fix the bug within their budgets and 24 per cent expected to spend their entire annual IT budget on this problem alone. Average costs per trust were predicted at over 900,000 this financial year compared to an average IT budget of 560,000.