Human remains and medical waste piling up at NHS trusts as troubled supplier stops collections, government says

Major incident declared as ministers issue statement

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Wednesday 12 December 2018 00:00 GMT
An NHS major incident has been declared
An NHS major incident has been declared (Getty)

Human remains and other medical waste that require professional storage and treatment are building up at dozens of NHS trusts in England after a scandal-hit contractor stopped collections.

Ministers issued a statement on Tuesday about failings at Healthcare Environmental Services (HES), which was previously reported to have been stockpiling hundreds of tonnes of waste – including body parts - at its sites.

While some hospitals cancelled their contract with HES immediately, the firm has since “failed to collect waste from a further 24 trusts” it was working with in England, health minister Stephen Hammond said.

An NHS major incident has been declared and trusts have been told to switch to contingency measures, including storing toxic or infectious waste and surgical instruments in compactors, skips and trailers on the trust’s site.

Anatomical waste, such as amputated body parts or tissue should be stored in refrigerated units in the hospital mortuary, according to guidance seen by the Health Service Journal which first reported the issues.

The government said it enacted contingencies after the company failed to provide assurance it is going to be able to keep trading.

“HES has now failed to collect waste from 24 further trusts. [NHS Improvement] has sought assurance from HES that it has not ceased trading and is capable of, and will continue to provide services.

“Such assurance has not been forthcoming. Contingency arrangements are in place for each of the affected trusts.”

The Environment Agency is currently taking regulatory action against HES over the initial breach of capacity limits on medical waste storage, and has “launched a criminal investigation”, the government said.

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Rival firm Mitie has been enlisted to pick up the additional contracts and offer trusts replacement clinical waste collection, Mr Hammond added.

Graham McColl, HES group marketing manager, told The Independent it was still collecting waste in parts of England but he said the company only halted collections after the contracts were cancelled by the NHS.

“We weren’t given notice, they basically just refused to let us collect,” Mr McColl said.

“They cancelled the contracts on us, I presume it came from NHS England.”

He denied HES was under criminal investigation, though the Environment Agency was investigating its breach of waste regulations.

The firm has blamed lack of UK incinerator capacity for the crisis.

HES was also serviced notice by the Scottish NHS that it faces losing contracts for its remaining hospitals after the contracts were procured again from April 2019.

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