Contractor Mitie has taken over clinical waste incineration services for 15 NHS trusts after the Government stripped the contracts from Healthcare Environmental Services (HES) due to the company failing clear a backlog of hazardous waste.
Health minister Stephen Barclay said the clinical waste was stored securely but was not being processed and disposed of within required time limits.
He said the Environment Agency (EA) partially closed HES’s Normanton site near Leeds on 3 October.
NHS Improvement wrote to HES giving it 48 hours to provide evidence that it was operating within legal limits.
It concluded that HES was not, and at 4pm last Sunday 15 NHS Trusts served contract termination notices to HES covering 15 trusts.
The Government and NHS then negotiated with Mitie to take over the work.
Barclay said: “The Environment Agency are taking enforcement action against HES to clear the excess waste from their sites and bring the company back into compliance with their permits.
“As part of this enforcement activity, the Environment Agency have partially suspended the company’s permit at their Normanton site. This will prevent HES from accepting any more incinerator-only waste, as the company focuses on clearing the backlog of waste on-site.
“The Environment Agency are also progressing with enforcement action at the other non-compliant sites. This includes following up the first enforcement notice for the HES Newcastle site.
”If the site does not become compliant, the likely next stage is a partial suspension to prevent the acceptance of incinerator only waste at Newcastle. It is the company’s responsibility to clear its sites and operate legally.”
Barclay said there had been no threat to public health from the storage problems. According to the Health Services Journal, around 50 trusts have been affected by the problems afflicting HES.
Barclay added: “The Government is working with the Environment Agency and NHS to ensure lessons are learnt, and we are reviewing how contracts will be awarded in the future.”
HES’s contract win against Stericycle for NHS clinical waste services for Cumbria and north-east England was in July subject to a court battle which the former won over claims from Stericycle that HES had bid unrealistically low
Meanwhile, the EA has rejected claims by HES that regulatory breaches are rife in the clinical waste market.
The company said last Friday that it had told the EA over recent months “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.”
Both the EA and Department for Health and Social Care have said that there is ample incineration capacity for clinical waste.
The EA has now rejected HES’ assertion that other firms are breaking regulations. It told MRW said: “We’ve recently carried out an audit of this sector and haven’t found other companies facing similar issues.
“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.”
HES has been contacted for comment.
The company is part of a group, both with directors Garry and Alison Pettigrew. Its latest accounts show a profit in 2017 of £30,671 on a turnover of £31m, against a £1.7m loss on a £26.2m turnover in 2016.