NHS waste backlog: Criminal probe launched

Few can have missed the generally lurid headlines concerning a ‘mountain of clinical wastes and human body parts’ that seem to have appeared in all news websites, TV news and newspapers over the last couple of days.

A criminal investigation has been launched after a backlog of medical waste was allowed to build up at several disposal sites.

It emerged on Thursday that the waste from hospitals had not been disposed of in a timely fashion by contractor Healthcare Environmental Services Ltd.

The Environment Agency said the firm was in breach of permits.

HES said it had previously highlighted the need to invest in the UK’s “ageing” incinerator network for clinical waste.

The Department of Health in England said there was no risk to the public.


Clearly someone has screwed up, and it is perhaps appropriate that an investigation is performed. There will be a question raised in Parliament on Tuesday next week, and the Environment Agency is threatening prosecution.

Though we have only limited information, and all of that is second-hand so by no means certain, it seems that with a backlog of an estimated 70 tonnes of clinical waste awaiting treatment, spread between 4 operational sites it really doesn’t seem quite as bad as it might be.

Hardly enough to put the NHS at risk, though incineration capacity is somewhat irregularly distributed overall we should still be self-sufficient. It seems particularly crazy that the Government decided to call a meeting of the COBRA emergency planning group. Perhaps overkill, or possibly politicking by DEFRA / EA representatives.

It  is apparent the Environment Agency had known of this for around 6 months. What have they been doing in all that time? Reading between the lines, apparently nothing! Perhaps this will be the necessary prompt for a Parliamentary enquiry to address EA activities, as a high level priority?

see also:


Clinical waste operator breaches environmental permits


Human body parts and organs among tonnes of medical waste stockpiled by NHS contractor

Body parts pile up as NHS supplier fails to dispose of human waste

Bradford hospitals in NHS body parts storage scandal

Body parts pile up as NHS supplier fails to dispose of ‘anatomical’ human waste (for the international perspective, this report is from the South China Morning Post!)

Delays to disposal of NHS hospital waste spark Cobra meeting

… and so many more


  1. Bernard the figure is may be (it is unlikely that there is an accurate record of the total at this point) between 4 and 8 times that when accounting for the total backlog across all the companies sites.


  2. It is possible, though I suspect not. Perhaps it is a matter of definition, and perhaps eventually the truth will out.

    What is becoming abundantly clear is that capacity issues are effectively something of a smokescreen, though the amount of sharps waste going to incineration is now massively inflated, and for very good reason, by sharps safety legislation that mandates syringes and needles are not separated prior to disposal.

    I do hope Parliamentary investigation questions the role,andpossible failings of the Environment Agency. They seem lacking in this matter,though obviously cannot be expected to shoulder all of the blame.


  3. I don’t suppose it would be such a huge story if “Body parts” piled up was not in the headline. The percentage of anatomical waste collected is usually very small compared to the rest of the healthcare waste, the mountain surely should be visible by now but isn’t.


  4. I’m sure you’re right. And spread over 4 or 5 sites, surely no one of them can really have amassed a ‘mountain’.

    Late on Wednesday evening, on Thursday and on Friday, I was called about this by several journalists. Despite giving a reasoned and balanced explanation of that these wastes were likely to comprise they nonetheless stayed with their eye catching headlines.


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