Criminal probe over body parts 'pile up — NHS waste backlog

Henrietta Strickland
October 8, 2018

HUMAN body parts are among hundreds of tons of waste from NHS hospitals which have been allowed to pile up by a disposal company.

According to the Environment Agency (EA), Healthcare Environment Services Ltd (HES) breached its permits at five sites in England that deal with human and pharmaceutical waste.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency is monitoring two sites where enforcement notices have been issued.

The government emphasized that anatomical waste is a small portion of the what is stored by Healthcare Environment Services and that the Environment Agency has been working with the company to ensure that it is kept in refrigerated units within the confines of facilities.

Responding to the news of the stockpiled medical waste, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: "These are staggering revelations and given the number of NHS trusts involved, along with wider environmental health implications, I'm disappointed the health secretary didn't inform Parliament last month".

"This is to enable us to protect patient services in the event of a disruption to waste collections".

The company has blamed the delay on a "reduction in the UK's high-temperature incineration capacity", along with zero waste-to-landfill policies reducing the possible destinations for the waste.

The journal states that government officials were so alarmed by the issue, a COBRA meeting, chaired by health secretary Matt Hancock was convened.

Healthcare Environmental Services has a transfer station for waste in Dundee and a storage, processing and incineration site at Shotts.

"Our priority is to prevent disruption to the NHS and other vital public services and work is underway to ensure organizations can continue to dispose of their waste safely and efficiently".

A spokeswoman for the EA, who uncovered the gruesome findings, said: "The Environment Agency has found Health Environmental Services to be in breach of its environmental permits at five sites which deal with clinical waste".

As part of our enforcement activity, we have partially suspended the company's permit at one of their sites.

It includes amputated limbs, infectious liquids and waste linked to cancer treatment, leaked NHS England documents seen by the Health Service Journal show. A criminal investigation has been launched into the debacle, the Environment Agency said.

It is the company's responsibility to clear its sites and operate legally. Healthcare Environmental has been in discussion with the environmental regulators and has consistently highlighted these issues, whilst we have maintained service to all our clients.

The affected sites included a plant at Normanton - in Cooper's constituency of Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford - where the waste was reported to have been five times more than HES's permitted level.

Cooper asked if the problem was a much wider one involving the national waste strategy, or an issue around the monitoring of companies involved.

Dr Kathy McLean, chief operating officer and executive medical director of NHS Improvement, said: "The NHS has contingency plans in place for clinical waste and patients should be assured that their care will be unaffected".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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