Millennium: NHS executive unable to guarantee patient safety

According to a report published today by the Commons public accounts committee, the NHS has been hobbled by poor information in its preparation for the year 2000, leaving its executive body unable to guarantee patient safety on Jan 1 2000.

The accounts committee headed by conservative MP David Davis draws some worrying conclusions about the NHS' ability to deal with the millennium bug despite assurances from the NHS executive that "systems will either be ready, or contingency plans will be in place".

The report points to several failings that could lead to patients being put at risk, although the authors were careful not to suggest anyone would die. It points to the failure of the NHS executive to give a "categorical assurance on the safety of patients" when the bug strikes. Frank Burns head of information management and technology for the NHS executive issued a statement through his press office stating: "The year 2000 date change is the service's highest non-clinical priority... it is being taken extremely seriously in every hospital," but Burns failed to give any assurance on patient safety. A spokesman for the NHS executive told ZDNet News: "We are doing the best we can. That's as far as we can go."

Vehement criticism was also aimed at the Medical Devices Agency which was responsible for advising the NHS on how best to deal with the millennium bug. It states: "We are appalled that the Medical Devices Agency did not realise the potential impact of [millennium related] failures until late 1997. In our view, this delay, and the misleading advice they gave the NHS in 1996 can only have increased the risks to patients and the costs of remedial action." The Medical Devices Agency failed to respond to ZDNet's enquiries.

Dr Roger Duckitt, a Senior House Officer at an A&E department chilled the debate somewhat, advising people not to panic. He said: "Most of the A&E departments for example, do not rely on computers for initial patient care but there is obviously concern where past notes on patients are held on a database. If there is millennium interference it could possibly affect a patient's treatment." Asked if he was concerned about working in a busy accident and emergency unit on Jan 1 2000 Duckett said he isn't expecting any problems.