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Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Clinical waste firm stripped of NHS contracts after body parts allowed to pile up

Written by David Hughes, Jennifer McKiernan and Dan O'Donoghue

A clinical waste disposal firm has been stripped of NHS contracts after allowing body parts to pile up at its facilities.

Healthcare Environment Services (HES) had "failed to demonstrate that they were operating within their contractual limits," according to NHS Improvement.

Health Minister Stephen Barclay told MPs that 15 NHS trusts had served termination notices to HES, with the work being taken over by Mitie.

In a statement to Parliament he said: "I can confirm that NHS services continue to operate as normal.

"We are ensuring that there are contingency plans in place in case of any disruption, and that there is absolutely no risk to the health of patients or the wider public."

Mr Barclay said that the Government was first aware of concerns in July.

He said: "On July 31, the Environment Agency notified central Government of an issue concerning clinical waste collection and disposal for hospitals and other public services provided by the company, Healthcare Environmental Services (HES).

"In this instance, the primary concern was that too much waste was being held in a number of waste storage and treatment sites by a contractor, Healthcare Environment Services.

"While the waste was stored securely, it was not being processed and disposed of within the correct regulatory timescales. At no point has there been an impact on public health or any delay to the ability of the NHS to carry out operations."

He said that following the Environment Agency's issuing of a partial closure to HES's Normanton site, NHS Improvement (NHSI) issued a letter to HES and gave the firm 48 hours to provide evidence that they "were operating within legal and contractual parameters and set out a number of threshold levels".

He said: "NHSI concluded that HES failed to demonstrate that they were operating within their contractual limits.

"Consequently, 15 NHS Trusts served termination notices to HES formally to terminate their contracts at 4pm on Sunday October 7.

"In parallel, the Department of Health and Social Care, the Cabinet Office, NHS Improvement and the affected Trusts have negotiated a new contract with Mitie to step in and replace this service."

That contract was "fully operational" from Monday morning, he told MPs.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said none of the firm's contracts with NHS Scotland boards have been terminated.

No instances of body parts piling up have been found north of the border.

HES has previously denied any wrongdoing and insisted that all clinical waste is correctly stored, with anatomical waste kept in refrigerated units.

"HES has never stockpiled hundreds of tonnes of human body parts and dangerous waste at any of our sites throughout the UK," a statement released on Friday said.

"The amount of anatomical waste we collect in England each week only amounts to 1% of the overall tonnage of waste collected."

The North Lanarkshire-based company said it has "welcomed" visits from the Environment Agency a number of times over the past few months and has pointed out to them that the amount of waste produced by the NHS for incineration "far outweighs the entire incineration capabilities of the UK".

OVER 3.5 TONNES OF BODY PARTS STOCKPILED IN WASTE SCANDAL, MINISTER CONFIRMS

More than 3.5 tonnes of human body parts was stockpiled in the clinical waste scandal, a minister has confirmed in Parliament.

A criminal investigation has been launched by the Environment Agency into Healthcare Environment Services (HES), which collected £31 million last year to burn waste, but instead stockpiled it at four sites.

Health minister Stephen Barclay made the admission about how much waste was body parts as he responded to questions from furious MPs about how the company was allowed to reach five times its legal limit of waste.

He said: "I think it's worth just reminding the House that just 1.1% of this clinical waste is anatomical, so some of the media headlines on this are slightly out of step with the reality."

The body parts were among 350 tonnes of waste, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told the Commons, in an "absolutely horrific scandal".

He said: "Why was a decision taken not to inform Parliament and the public sooner and, given concerns were raised in March, why did the NHS not intervene earlier?

"We're picking up the pieces yet again of another disastrous procurement to an outsourced contract with a private firm going wrong. What plans are now in place to ensure something like this never happens again?"

Mr Barclay responded by accusing Mr Ashworth of using "inflammatory language".

He said: "The reality here is that there was a contractual arrangement with a supplier who has stored the waste correctly, but has stored too much of it.

"The Environment Agency is enforcing against that, we have put in place contingency plans within the trust and with alternative provision in the form of a contract with Mitie."

SNP health spokeswoman Philippa Whitford asked how 13 warnings and two compliance notices served on the company in the last year had gone unheeded until July.

Mr Barclay said: "The primary purpose of the notifications has been to encourage the company back into compliance.

"The reason for the partial suspension in Normanton has been the unwillingness of the company to respond to that."

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