Our NHS trust’s contingency plan after clinical waste contractor found stockpiling body parts

Lister Hospital in Stevenage

Lister Hospital in Stevenage - Credit: Archant

After its clinical waste contractor has allowed amputated limbs, infectious liquids and other hazardous materials to pile up at its handling sites, the East and North Herts NHS Trust – which runs Stevenage’s Lister Hospital and Welwyn Garden City’s New QEII Hospital – has confirmed ‘contingency arrangements’ are in place.

Healthcare Environmental Services, which is contracted by the NHS and operates six sites across England, has been found in breach of environmental permits by the Environment Agency, with excess waste levels reportedly reaching 350 tonnes at one of its sites – five times its 70-tonne limit.

An EA spokesman said: “We are taking enforcement action, which includes clearance of the excess waste, and have launched a criminal investigation.

“The Environment Agency has found HES in breach of its environmental permits at four of its six sites which deal with clinical waste – by having more waste on site than its permit allows and storing waste inappropriately.”

The EA, which first alerted the government to the problem back in July, said it has taken action with HES to bring its sites back into compliance, but it has repeatedly breached permits and continued to operate unlawfully.

In response, an East and North Herts NHS Trust spokesman told this paper: “The company is contracted to dispose of our waste.

“We have put contingency arrangements in place in the event of any disruption to existing services to ensure our waste is stored safely, and there is no risk to patients and staff.”

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It is understood NHS trusts may have to store their own waste at hospitals in bespoke trailers under a contingency plan agreed by government.

HES has been stripped of contracts with 15 NHS trusts, but its contract with the East and North Herts NHS Trust remains in place.

HES says anatomical waste is not stored for longer than permitted and blames a lack of high-temperature incineration capacity for the backlog.

But an EA spokesman said: “There is industry-wide agreement that overall there is sufficient incineration capacity.

“An audit of permitted sites dealing with clinical waste indicates a high level of compliance in this sector.”

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