The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has said sufficient incinerator capacity exists to handle NHS clinical waste, despite claims from a company under investigation for alleged stockpiling of body parts that regulatory breaches are rife in the sector.
Healthcare Environmental Services (HES) has said there are capacity shortages and that Government contingency plans themselves pose a health hazard.
A DHSC spokeswoman told MRW: “Defra and the NHS have made an assessment and found there is sufficient capacity, enough to deal with waste from all NHS hospitals.”
This is at odds with statements from HES, which last week was found to be in breach of environmental permits by the Environment Agency (EA), which launched a criminal investigation against the company over allegedly stockpiled clinical waste.
HES has said that it repeatedly warned the Government, EA and NHS about capacity shortages, and claimed that other companies were “continually breaching storage regulations”.
The EA said last week: “[We have] found Healthcare Environmental Services to be in breach of its environmental permits at 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.”
The EA added that there was “industry-wide agreement that overall there is sufficient incineration capacity”.
It said it had worked with HES but the company had “repeatedly breached permits and continued to operate unlawfully”, leading to the criminal investigation.
HES said it had received no notification of legal proceedings. It said in a statement that it had “never stockpiled hundreds of tonnes of human body parts and dangerous waste at any of our sites throughout the UK”. It said anatomical waste was not stored at its facilities for longer than allowed and was all stored correctly.
The company claimed that, in recent months, it had told the EA “the amount of waste produced by the NHS for incineration far outweighs the entire incineration capabilities of the UK and not just Healthcare Environmental Services.
“We are not the only company to feel the strain on our services, with many of our competitors continually breaching storage regulations.”
Competitor Tradebe told MRW last week that there was no capacity shortage, taking a similar stance to that of the DHSC and EA.
HES went on to say that, for the past three years, it had lobbied the EA, NHS and the Government “about the need for investment in the ageing incineration network to deal with clinical waste”. It claimed that Government contingency plans “could result in the NHS suffering a number of waste management issues, which would be a major risk to public health”.
A separate statement from HES directors Garry and Alison Pettigrew said: “While the interest in this story has not come as a shock to us, the vitriol and the accusations against us, the company and our team has.”
They said they had invested “our life into the business along with more than £2m of personal loans, with no funding from any government institutions”.