Clinical waste disposal firm Healthcare Environmental Services (HES) said all its NHS contracts have been terminated following a long-running dispute over a build-up of waste.
HES was told on 6 December that the 35 trust contracts it held with NHS England would be terminated and the work transferred to Mitie.
Contracts the company had with NHS Scotland were also terminated and the disposal work awarded instead to Spanish firm Tradebe.
HES has already had 17 contracts, held with the Yorkshire and Humber health trusts, terminated back in October. This was over a dispute over a build-up of medical waste. HES is now pursuing legal action and is seeking damages of up to £15m.
Managing director Garry Pettigrew said: “Hundreds of tonnes of clinical waste, including body parts, is still sitting in car parks in Yorkshire’s hospitals, more than two months after the minister for health said it would be cleared. This is what will happen next in Scotland and at the busiest time of the year for the NHS.”
Pettigrew also claimed that he was being “vilified” for highlighting UK incinerator capacity shortages. He argued that a “personality clash” between himself and a Government minister during a meeting with the Cabinet Office in September had led to his company being “victimised”.
Pettigrew argued that waste built up at its Normanton site, near Leeds, because of a shortage of high-temperature incineration capacity, and that it requested a dispensation from the Environment Agency (EA) to clear the backlog.
Pettigrew claimed the company could clear the backlog at a cost of £400,000 to itself but was being asked to pay £1.4m by the Government to pay for another contractor to clear it. He claimed to have been told to pay the Government or suffer “death by a thousand cuts”.
The EA has denied claims that there is not enough incinerator capacity in the UK. It said Defra estimates there to be a spare 30,000 tonnes of capacity annually in the system.
A spokesperson said: “Healthcare Environmental Services has significantly and repeatedly breached its environmental permits by storing excess waste inappropriately at a number of its sites.
“We have taken a range of action against the company but they have continued to operate unlawfully. As a result, in addition to our enforcement activity to clear the sites, we are undertaking a criminal investigation.”
The levels of waste allowed to build up at each site, above permitted levels, varied from a few tonnes to 300 tonnes in the case of the Normanton site.
None of the sites are publicly accessible. The EA said it was working with the Government and NHS to ensure there is no disruption to public services and that alternative plans had been put in place.
Statement from HES managing director Garry Pettigrew:
“We were servicing NHS Scotland’s sites under a restricted service until we were refused access on Friday (7 December), and the constant threat of contingency plans being put into place affected our ability to maintain staffing levels. We had no choice but to stop the service. We offered to continue the collections under another company within the Healthcare Environmental Group but the NSS refused.
“I am still hopeful that we can continue to work with NHS Scotland. Scotland’s waste will stay in Scotland and not be transported hundreds of miles to England. We believe that the new contractor’s proposal is based on taking the waste from Scotland and transporting it hundreds of miles to England for a minimum 40 weeks, increasing risk and resulting in the loss of over 150 skilled staff at our Scottish facilities.
“We have invested in the latest medical waste treatment and recycling facilities, including incineration technology, located just outside Glasgow in Shotts and the capacity to safely and securely process all of Scotland’s medical waste. I really hope we can find a solution before the hard winter months set in. As a company with more than 23 years’ experience, we know it is partnership working that ensures Scotland’s hospitals function properly.”