Healthcare Environment Services Ltd has been discovered to be in breach of its permits at five sites in England, the Environment Agency has said. A backlog of waste, which is reported to include amputated limbs and pharmaceutical waste, is the result of a reduction in incineration infrastructure capacity, the company says.
Leaked reports obtained by The Health Service Journal (HSJ) show that amputated limbs and pharmaceutical waste were among the waste not processed and disposed of within the correct regulatory timeframes.
The HSJ also reported that a Cobra meeting was chaired by Matt Hancock last month over the issue.
A statement by Healthcare Environment Services Ltd suggests the company puts the backlog down to a reduction in incinerator capacity, according to The Independent.
A spokesperson for Healthcare Environmental Services 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.
Healthcare Environmental Services – “Over the last year, this reduced incineration capacity has been evident across all of the industry and has affected all companies.”
“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.”
A criminal investigation has been launched along with a clear up operation, the Environment Agency has said, which is taking enforcement action against Healthcare Environment Services Ltd.
“We are supporting the Government and the NHS to ensure there is no disruption to public services and for alternative plans to be put in place for hospitals affected to dispose of their waste safely,” an EA spokesperson said.
A Government spokesman said the government is monitoring the situation closely and has made sure that public services – including NHS Trusts – have contingency plans in place. The public have been assured there is absolutely no risk to the health of patients or the wider public.
“Our priority is to prevent disruption to the NHS and other vital public services and work is under way to ensure organisations can continue to dispose of their waste safely and efficiently,” the spokesperson said.
[UPDATE] 9 October
A statement by the Environment Agency (EA) has rebuffed Healthcare Environment Services Ltd’s suggestions that a lack of incineration capacity casued the backlog of clinical waste.
“There is industry wide agreement that overall there is sufficient incineration capacity,” the statement read.
“Incinerator shutdowns do occur for maintenance, but this is mostly planned and companies should have contingency plans in place. We have recently carried out an audit of permitted sites dealing with clinical waste which indicate a high level of compliance in this sector – the majority of sites are operating at the expected level or above.
“The Environment Agency has taken a range of action with the company to bring their sites back into compliance but they have repeatedly breached permits and continued to operate unlawfully. As a result, in addition to our enforcement activity to clear the sites, the EA has launched a criminal investigation.”
The EA confirmed the company was in breach of its environmental permits at 4 of its 6 sites. As part of itsenforcement activity, it has partially suspended the company’s permit at one of their sites.
“This will prevent them from accepting any more incinerator-only waste in order for them to clear the backlog of waste on-site. We are also progressing with enforcement action at the other non-compliant sites,” the EA said.