Trust and health authority chief executives have been ordered to sign a public 'guarantee' to deliver key services as part of final preparations for the millennium.

An NHS Executive circular instructs managers to sign up to a template guarantee promising 'full commitment to. . . high quality hospital, emergency and primary care services'.

The circular warns that no patients should wait on trolleys in corridors 'or in other unacceptable environments'. It gives HAs until tomorrow to brief local media on their 'state of readiness', and suggests guarantees could be signed.

A Department of Health spokesperson denied that trusts risked being left with 'egg on their faces' if local media held any service failings against what might be seen as a 'cast iron guarantee'. He said the guarantee technically offered 'nothing beyond' the normal commitment that organisations 'will do all they can' to provide services.

Final Preparations for the Winter and Millennium Holiday Including Incident Reporting and Millennium Operating Regimes for the Year 2000 Problem .