A health trust which runs Calderdale Royal Hospital has contingency plans in place for waste collection, if a company accused of stockpiling hundreds of tonnes of human waste runs into more trouble.
A major health incident was declared by the NHS and the government after it was discovered that disposal company Healthcare Environment Services Ltd was storing five times its limit of hazardous human waste including amputated limbs, infestious liquids, cytotoxic waste linked to cancer treatment and hazardous pharmaceutical waste.
The Health Service Journal (HSJ) broke news this week that Government inspectors were taking enforcement action against the company, prompting fears it could collapse and cause local hospitals problems with disposing of human waste.
But a spokesperson for Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Calderdale Royal Hospital, Halifax, and Huddersfield Royal Infirmary, said waste collection was continuing.
“We have a contract for waste collection which is continuing as usual.
“Should that change we have contingency plans in place,” she said.
Healthcare Environment Services Ltd had been storing some 350 tonnes of hazardous human waste at its Normanton, West Yorkshire, site which has a limit of 70 tonnes, reported HSJ.
The Environment Agency says the company is in breach of its permits at five sites in England which deal with clinical waste and a criminal investigation has been launched.
HSJ, which was leaked documents from NHS England, reported Government held a Cobra meeting chaired by Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, last month over the issue.
But the company says stockpiling issues are not just a concern for it alone, that it has consistently highlighted issues and is taking action to improve the situation.
Healthcare Environment Services Ltd says it has highlighted the reduction in the UK’s high-temperature incineration capacity for the last few years, problems it says relate to 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, it says.
In a statement the company said: “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.
“We are working closely with our various disposal sites, including utilising our own £13m new waste to energy facility to reduce the volume on site, whilst maintaining services,” said a spokesperson.
The company says all waste is contained and processed within licensed facilities in full co-operation with the relevant authorities.
“We remain dedicated to dealing with this national issue that affects all waste management companies and facilities within the UK. HEG is dedicated to resolving this issue, as and when incineration capacity becomes available.
“In the interim, all our facilities are operating normally whilst we work with our various partners across the UK,” said the spokesperson.
An Environment Agency spokeswoman said: “The Environment Agency has found Healthcare Environmental Services to be in breach of its environmental permits at five 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.
“We are supporting the Government and the NHS to ensure there is no disruption to public services and for alternative plans to be put in place for hospitals affected to dispose of their waste safely.”
Other affected trusts include Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust, Northern Lincolnshire and Goole FT, Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust, and East and North Hertfordshire Trust, with up to 50 possibly affected in total.
The NHS England document states if Healthcare Environmental goes out of business as a result of the enforcement action it would “significantly impact the management of waste within both hospital and primary care services across England”, reports HSJ.