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Liquidators in at clinical waste firm HES

The company at the centre of the ‘body parts’ clinical waste stockpiling scandal, Healthcare Environmental Services (HES), has entered liquidation.

A statement from accountancy firm BDO said two of its partners had been appointed joint interim liquidators of HES by a court order, “made on petition of a creditor with support of certain employees, after consultation with the relevant regulators”.

BDO said it would “rapidly assess and confirm the appropriate strategy to address the well-documented issues raised following Healthcare Environmental Services Limited’s failure”, in close co-ordination with environmental regulators.

A Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) spokesperson said: “Compliance is non-negotiable and Sepa has been in communication with the interim liquidators, to whom environmental obligations under the environmental licences for both sites now fall, to ensure the environment and communities remain safeguarded.

“Sepa continues to support the Scottish Government, NHS Scotland and health boards as part of the ongoing contingency arrangements, to ensure that clinical waste across all NHS boards in Scotland continues to be stored, collected and disposed of appropriately.

“All contingency measures will ensure that environmental and human health are appropriately protected. To date, our inspections have not identified any current risk of pollution from the waste stored on these sites.”

HES was based in Lanarkshire and ran clinical waste services for the NHS until controversy erupted last year about human and other hospital waste being stored incorrectly, a situation the company blamed on a lack of incinerator capacity.

BDO said HES ceased trading in late December 2018, when around 300 employees were understood to have been made redundant.

Former HES staff claimed in January they were left unpaid and forced to rely on food banks after the company collapsed.

Professor Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen, this month called for a public inquiry into the affair.

Andusia, which entered the clinical waste market this month, appeared to agree with HES’s claim that there was a lack of suitable incinerator capacity. Its director Mark Terrell said there was “a real lack of UK facilities to deal with hazardous waste”.

But Michael Taylor, managing director of waste management at Mitie, which was appointed by the NHS to handle waste from HES, has told Health Service Journal that backlogs of clinical waste outside NHS hospitals will be cleared by early May.

Mitie is now the provider of waste services for nearly a quarter of all English NHS trusts.

Asked if there is enough incineration capacity for NHS clinical waste in the UK, Taylor said there is “more than enough” from an “analytical point of view”.

However, he said the clinical waste market comprises “competitors working in a very insular way because they are competing for business, so things around [incineration plant] shutdowns and maintenance were kept company-specific because why would you tell your competitors when you were going to have shutdowns?”

“What you end up with, and March is a good example of that, was the majority of them all have shutdowns at the same time,” he added.

“There is enough capacity to incinerate the material. It has peaks and troughs, and shutdowns cause major issues without doubt, but we’re trying to control that.”

Mitie has developed an IT platform which companies can use to inform it when shutdowns are going to happen, as well as displaying how much capacity is available to deal with clinical waste.

“It has been working only for a couple of weeks, so it’s not perfect yet. But it is an example of how we’re identifying issues and putting IT or smart solutions in to correct them and stop this happening again,” Taylor said.

He said the backlog that HES left “was a couple of hundred tonnes – it was probably three to four weeks’ worth of waste.

“They were also picking which waste streams to take. They were taking the waste they could treat [more easily] such as things that didn’t need incinerating.”

Attempts to shift the backlogs were also hampered by HES not giving Mitie thousands of its bins, despite Mitie paying for them, Taylor said, adding that Mitie had access to only half the bins purchased.

“Therefore, we didn’t have the capability of offering a like-for-like service,” Taylor said.

Garry Pettigrew, owner of HES, denied his company had stopped making collections and withheld bins.

He said: “We were collecting up to 6 October, when security stopped our guys from collecting. There was no backlog on any of the sites.”

On the issue of bins, Pettigrew said: “The bins they purchased were not HES assets – they belonged to Starryshaw Consultants and the monies were not paid to [them].” Companies House lists Pettigrew as a director of Starryshaw Consultants.

Several trusts have reported steep rises in their clinical waste costs after switching from HES to Mitie, and there have also been concerns about backlogs building up at hospitals again.

Taylor said HES was charging trusts “below the market rate”, and said those trusts that are paying much higher prices are not segregating their waste as well as they should be.

Part of this story originally appeared in Health Service Journal, reproduced here by permission

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