Published: 27/03/2003, Volume II3, No. 5848 Page 7

Claims that the creation of the new Health Protection Agency has been rushed, undermining its ability to deal with possible terrorist attacks, have been rejected by the agency.

HPA starts work on Wednesday and results from the merger of the public health laboratory service, the national radiological protection board, the centre for applied microbiology and research, and the national focus for chemical incidents. But a leaked internal report sent to the HPA steering group in November raises concerns about the timetable, the complexity of the transition, the loss of staff and lack of funding for the new body. It calls for action on over 40 separate issues raised.

It said: 'It seems inevitable that if the timetable of 1 April 2003 for HPA is to be delivered, some... risk will have to be tolerated.Were there to be a severe external challenge over the next few months, such as a deliberate [biological or chemical] release, the situation and expected forward timetable would need rapid reappraisal.'

Shadow health secretary Dr Liam Fox said: 'The Department of Health is endangering public health by ignoring the concerns of healthcare professionals.'

An HPA spokesperson said the issues had been addressed: 'We are confident there will be no effect on services currently being provided when the transfer takes place.'

The NHS Confederation, which consulted with senior managers affected by the proposals, admits there were concerns over the transition timetable, particularly during new year when HPA was just 12 weeks away from going live.

But policy manager Janice Miles said: 'I think what has happened since is the arrival of Pat Troop [HPA chief executive] this year. She has been seen as a steadying influence. She has made it clear the transition will be a smooth process.We do not believe there will be holes in the provision of services.

'The NHS Confederation has supported the direction of travel, but there have been questions over the pace of change, especially when primary care trusts have faced such huge demands on them from other parts of the service.'

She said claims that public safety was put at risk during the HPA transition phase were 'exaggerated'.

lGlasgow Royal Infirmary's accident and emergency department was closed on Tuesday morning after a suspicious package was sent to the unit. As HSJ went to press, two members of hospital staff who had been in contact with the package were being medically checked.

A spokesperson for NHS Greater Glasgow said: 'The A&E was closed at 9.50am after a suspicious package was received. I believe the department will open again this afternoon.'

Strathclyde Police is investigating the incident.