Scots hospitals risk cross-contamination transporting clinical waste in same trolleys as sterile equipment

Hazardous clinical waste is being transported in the same hospital trolleys as sterile medical equipment — sparking fears of lethal cross-contamination.

A whistleblower raised serious safety concerns after claiming roll cages are used to move clean syringes and bandages as well as dumped material including bloody waste and faeces.

The scandal comes after the collapse of controversial disposal firm Healthcare Environmental Services led to the NHS putting new companies and contingency measures in place to remove hazardous material.

A highly-placed insider told The Scottish Sun on Sunday: “The cross-contamination risk is through the roof. Patients and staff are at risk. These cages are used to transport medical goods from the National Procurement Centre to theatres and wards. It’s stock for wards, theatres — anything you can think of that a hospital needs to run.


Of course, while the Scottish newspapers shout about this ‘new’ problem, they don’t hold back in their generous use of hyperbole. Notwithstanding, it is a potential problem and much care should be taken to avoid this necessity, only ever using these crates for holding and internal transport of selected clinical waste containers.

As long as these wastes are restricted only to sharps or other clinical waste bins, as shown above, the risk of spillage is almost non-existent, though containers should be ‘placed’ and not thrown into the crates just in case! This would be wholly unsuitable for bagged clinical wastes.

In the second photo, and ignoring for the moment the two yellow clinical waste sacks on the floor, the waste bins seem to be Sanifem bins, many not having attached lids. That may be a hazard unless and until they have been washed and decontaminated. Even so, the risk of residual water and/or rainwater washing remaining contaminants to the floor below should be considered.

These of course are local problems. Some years ago, the Clinical Waste Discussion Forum reported the activities of a London and SE contractor who had fleet problems, for reasons that were never disclosed. There solution, to maintain services to clients, was to hire a number of large lorries. So far so good, save that the load compartments were lined with wooden slats (to secure pallets) and had a wooden floor.  No presence to a vehicle capable of being effectively decontaminated in the event of spillage, or when returning the vehicle that might next be used to transport food items etc.

It goes further, and it continues. Way back in 2006 I samples the wheels of a selection of yellow bulk litter waste carts (Eurocarts) supplied to hospitals by contractors to be filled with clinical wastes then removed for processing. Wheels were contaminated with a diversity of ‘hospital’ bacteria that were to be spread along hospital wards and departments. Worse, since those carts were to be returned to contractors the great probability was that after processing they would be returned to a central pool to the next customer this spreading potential pathogens not only through a single hospital to worse, between different hospitals. Cart washing was a standard routine but microbiologically inadequate, with wheels becoming recontaminated from the moment they were wheeled out of the cart wastes , or even before!

Click here for a copy of the 2006 research paper: Potential Compromise of Hospital Hygiene.


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