NHS supplier faces criminal investigation over clinical waste failure

5 October 2018

A criminal investigation has been launched into an NHS supplier for its failure to dispose of clinical waste.

According to NHS England documents leaked to the Health Service Journal (HSJ), the supplier let 350 tonnes of human waste build up at one of its sites – five times the company’s 70 tonne limit.

This included amputated limbs, hazardous pharmaceutical waste and infectious liquids.

The Environmental Agency (EA) confirmed to SM that it is taking enforcement action against the company, Healthcare Environmental Services (HES), as well as a criminal investigation.

In a COBRA meeting on 13 September, health secretary Matt Hancock ordered £1m be spent on helping up to 50 NHS trusts whose contracts with HES might collapse as a result of the action, said HSJ.

The EA, according to the documents, has given HES 13 warning notices and two compliance notices for failing to get rid of its waste on time.

A spokesperson for the EA said it found HES exceeded its environmental permits at all five of its sites which deal with clinical waste.

“We are taking enforcement action against the operator, which includes clearance of the excess waste, and have launched a criminal investigation,” he said.

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), the NHS and the EA have put contingency plans in place, and are working to ensure there is no disruption to public services, he added.

A DHSC spokesman said: “There is absolutely no risk to the health of patients or the wider public. We are monitoring the situation closely and have made sure that public services – including NHS trusts – have contingency plans in place.”

Meanwhile, HES has blamed the problem on “ageing infrastructure” and new waste disposal policies, saying it was a national issue that affected all companies in the industry.

A statement on its website said: “Healthcare Environmental has highlighted the reduction in the UK's high-temperature incineration capacity for the last few years.

“This is down to the ageing infrastructure, prolonged breakdowns and the reliance on zero waste to landfill policies, taking up the limited high-temperature incineration capacity in the market. Over the last year, this reduced incineration capacity has been evident across all of the industry and has affected all companies.

“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. There has been no disruption to our customers' services whilst we have been dealing with this issue.”

NHS Improvement and NHS England declined to comment.

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