In a scathing attack on the UK National Health Service's Year 2000 project, the head of the government action group claims that the NHS is 18 months behind commercial organisations in its conversion efforts.
Robin Guernier, head of Taskforce 2000, said the March 1998 deadline - set by the NHS Executive for all its Trusts to report a strategy outline - would be "dreadfully late".
Guenier came armed with research carried out by Professor Mike Smith of St Bartholomew?s Hospital and the Royal London School of Medicine and Dentistry. Smith is convinced that being completely ready for the millennium is now impossible.
He called on hospital trusts to have contingency plans in place, should they not be compliant by the end of 1999. He revealed that, by June of this year, only three per cent of the 450 Trusts had begun testing their systems while less than one-third had defined a basic strategy.
Guenier warned that, even now, audits, budgeting and implementation need to be done in parallel rather than one after the other.
He added: "Even in the private sector, the more compliance work people do the more confidence is waning as to whether all the problem areas can be covered."
The NHS claimed however, that it had been working on the problem since mid-1996.
A spokesman for the NHS Executive made a vigorous defence of its Y2K strategies. He said: "We are taking the problem very seriously and have set very challenging but realistic deadlines. It will be a question of prioritising at this stage but each Trust has an IT team and they are all drawing on the NHS dedicated central team."
The Birmingham-based Information Management Group is dealing with supplier compliance across the service as well as offering a helpline service to all the Trusts.
Tony Stock, head of information management and technology at University College London Hospital, warned that "the NHS overall does need to speed up its work". However, claiming that his Trust was more advanced than most, he claimed: "At UCL we have our plan ready. We?re fortunate because of our 200 systems, including 28 systems which we?ve identified as critical, only a few are bespoke."
Stock added: "For most of the critical systems we are working with the software suppliers. We?ve insisted on seeing their plans and they?re being very cooperative."
No extra money is being provided so many long term IT projects will have to be put off in order to cover the costs. The NHS say this won?t be a problem because "all the Trusts have large IT budgets".
While he admitted that UCL hasn?t determined the cost of the projects in much detail Stock explained: "To manpower the surveying alone will cost us #80,000 this year but for the actual modifications the suppliers should bear the burden. We?re taking a very hard line on this."
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