Human body parts and organs among tonnes of medical waste stockpiled by NHS contractor

One site in England storing five times more waste than it was allowed as contractor blames ageing incineration infrastructure for backlog

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Thursday 04 October 2018 23:05 BST
Amputated body parts, infectious bodily fluids and toxic chemotherapy chemicals stored beyond safe limits
Amputated body parts, infectious bodily fluids and toxic chemotherapy chemicals stored beyond safe limits (Getty)

Hundreds of tonnes of clinical waste including human organs, body parts and dangerous medical chemicals have been stockpiled by one of the NHS’s biggest disposal contractors, a leaked report has revealed.

The Healthcare Environment Services (HES) Ltd group has contracts with up to 50 NHS trusts to incinerate or dispose of amputated body parts, toxic chemotherapy chemicals, and potentially infectious bodily fluids.

But it says the UK’s ageing incinerators and strict disposal policies mean it cannot keep up with demand leading to a signifiant amount of excess waste being stored at its sites.

The government said there is no risk to the public but the backlog has sparked multiple Environment Agency warnings and a meeting of the Cobra national incident committee.

NHS England documents leaked to the Health Service Journal (HSJ) show that the health secretary, Matt Hancock, identified £1m at the ministerial meeting last month.

Trusts with HES contracts have been issued specialist storage units which they can use to store waste on site if necessary. However, HES is still receiving collections.

Each month, HES collects 584 tonnes of “incineration only” waste, and 1,972 tonnes of non-hazardous waste, and their storage and destruction is government by strict regulations.

It is the sole provider of waste disposal services for all hospital sites in Scotland, as well as a number of English hospitals.

The leaked reports show that one of the group’s five English disposal sites in Normanton, West Yorkshire, was holding 350 tonnes of waste – five times more than the 70 tonnes permitted.

This includes human tissue and surgical waste, and the Environment Agency has been working with the company to ensure these remains are stored appropriately in refrigerated units.

The leaked reports seen by the HSJ suggest the company has received 13 warnings and two compliance notices from the Environment Agency in the past year alone.

Hospitals have also been told to stop paying the company where it is breaching terms of its contract around disposing of hazardous waste.

It is currently looking to ship 650 tonnes of pharmaceutical waste to Holland.

A spokesperson for the company said in a statement: ”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.”

Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s shadow health and social care secretary called for statement in the House of Commons on the contingency plans in place.

He added: ”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.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care 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.”

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