Clinical waste build-up at hospitals

Clinical waste is piling up outside hospitals, Health Service Journal reveals, amid fallout from the crisis which exploded in the sector last year.

An NHS England document, leaked to HSJ, revealed “a number” of NHS organisations have “expressed concern” about the collection and disposal of clinical waste.

It comes after national emergency plans were triggered when the company at the centre of the stockpiling scandal which surfaced last year ceased trading.

As a result of the warnings, NHS Improvement has requested help from NHS England’s emergency preparedness, resilience and response team, while the Department of Health and Social Care is “escalating the issue” with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Environment Agency, the leaked document stated.

Health Service Journal also reveals:

  • A “significant” amount of clinical waste incineration capacity in the south of England has been lost temporarily after facilities closed for maintenance
  • An attempt to export hundreds of tonnes of NHS waste to Holland was abandoned last year
  • Individual trusts are being hit with unforeseen cost increases worth hundreds of thousands of pounds
  • In a highly unusual move, NHS Improvement has told all trusts not to buy new clinical waste services for a year until the “market has stabilised

Contingency plans ‘not a solution’

Between October and December last year, nearly 50 of 200-odd NHS trusts were forced to change their clinical waste management supplier after Healthcare Environmental Services was found to be stockpiling up to five times the levels of waste permitted at its sites.

Temporary containers, provided through a £1m DHSC rescue fund, were set up for affected trusts to store waste in as trusts terminated their contracts with HES, as advised by NHSI. Meanwhile, consultants from Mott Macdonald were brought in to help with the national contingency plans.

The majority of the trusts – most of them in Yorkshire and the North East – were then moved to a quickly negotiated contract with Mitie, held by Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust on behalf of the NHS.

Mitie does not operate any waste facilities or vehicles, instead relying on subcontractors to carry out the work.

Last month, the company told HSJ it had cleared backlogs of waste at NHS sites and was “already operating at a normal level”.

However, the NHS England document seen by HSJ – authored by Stephen Groves, the regulator’s head of EPRR – revealed several trusts had felt it necessary to trigger their own contingency plans due to issues with the collection and disposal of clinical waste.

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