Millennium Bug Watch

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TAKING ACTION against the millennium bug can sometimes create more problems than it appears to solve. Just ask the staff at John Radcliffe Hospital, one of the biggest in Oxford, which recently upgraded the software which controls its 2,300-line switchboard to cope with the year 2000.

When the software was installed, the system collapsed, leaving only 69 extensions working. In a desperate scramble, lines were reallocated; two for Accident & Emergency, and one each for every other ward. Other hospitals were put on alert to receive emergency admissions.

The problems, which began on the Sunday morning, continued until 3.10am the next day, while BT was called in to set up an emergency switchboard.

When engineers tried to get to the root of the trouble, they found that it was not the software that was faulty after all. The process of installing the software had triggered a hidden problem in the printed circuit boards holding the hardware that made up the switchboard.

Charles Arthur