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Friday, 15 May, 1998, 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK
Action urged on millennium health threat
Hospital ward
Patients could be put at risk by NHS computers that do not recognise 2000
The government has called for urgent action from health bodies to ensure that patients will not be put at risk by the millennium bug.

National Health Service trusts and health authorities are being told to make sure lives are not jeopardised by computers not recognising the date 2000.

Computer keyboard
Waiting lists and patient registers could be useless
The plea coincides with a report from the National Audit Office showing that not all hospital equipment will be fixed on time.

The millennium bug problem has been caused by programming systems that refer to years by just their last two digits.

Unprecedented threat

This means some computers will not be able to distinguish the year 2000 from 1900. When the millennium arrives they may either produce meaningless information or fail completely.

The Department of Health has described the millennium bug as an unprecedented potential threat to the NHS.

It has established new measures in a bid to ensure hospitals and health authorities throughout the UK are ready for the computer date change.

They include quarterly reporting procedures beginning from next month to identify concerns and a checkpoint at September 30 next year to ensure all parts of the Health Service are prepared or have effective contingency plans in place.

There will also be greater involvement of healthcare professionals in risk analysis and planning for the continuity of care.

The NAO report reveals that 15% of trusts are not confident their clinical equipment will function normally in 2000.

Operating theatre
Up to 15% of trusts are not confident their equipment will work properly in 2000
The same survey, carried out last October, found that nearly one in 10 trusts in England said they were not sure their information technology equipment would be free of the bug by 2000.

David Davis, chairman of the Commons Public Accounts select committee, to which the NAO reports, registered his concerns about the document's conclusions.

He said: "Much of the equipment used in diagnosis and treatment, for example, intravenous infusion pumps used commonly in the NHS, contain embedded microprocessors.

"Failure of such vital pieces of equipment could have even more serious consequences for individuals than failure of major computer systems."

The NAO reports that almost a third of health authorities said they were not confident GPs' systems would be compliant in time.

The report concludes that "some parts of the NHS remain at risk of failing to achieve year 2000 compliance".

It estimated that the total cost of the programme for the whole NHS at 230m.

The NHS Confederation said it was disappointed with the report. Chief executive Stephen Thornton said: "The NHS needs new money and technical assistance, not civil servants monitoring our performance."

See also:

16 Jun 98 | millennium bug
IT army to prevent 'digital doomsday'
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