Scrapping special collections of incontinence waste?

Rotherham Borough Council says scrapping special collections of incontinence waste will save £80,000 a year and officials deny there are any dangers to health. The council adds that special safeguards have been put in place for the disposal of hazardous clinical waste and the prevention of infections.

In these straightened times there seems little wrong with that, and the substantial cash saving will be very welcome. However, those campaigning against the change are adamant that plans to save money by “making the sick and elderly use their black bins to dispose of sensitive clinical waste will create a health risk”.

An independent Anston parish councillor, Stuart Thornton, says the ending of the old service under which such waste was put out for collection in special yellow bags, could spread dangerous bugs such as MRSA and C difficile. I disagree. MRSA is out in the community already and is remarkably widespread, with no additional risk from handling these additional wastes. That assumes, of course, that waste handlers are properly equipped and adhere to standard PPE and hygiene requirements. It assumes also that wases are not left to stand on the highway, on the pavement or even at the curtilage of homes in areas where kids and others, and the urban foxes, can access those wastes and/or spread them over a wide area.

But Mr Thornton asks the very pertinent question, “Why were these products unsafe last month and, as if by magic, they are now safe?” Not an easy question to answer, particularly when there is no likelihood that the answer, no matter how reasoned, will not be accepted!

“A borough council spokesman said that waste such as sanitary towels, nappies and incontinence pads which was not from a patient with an infectious disease, was classed as household waste and could be mixed in with normal domestic

“He said that it should be bagged before being put in the bin.

“The spokesman added: “If any individual is being treated by a healthcare professional and it is deemed the waste is hazardous, this waste will be collected separately on the clinical waste service.

A straightforward and quite reasonable explanation to put peoples’ mind at rest. Though I wouldn’t disagree, there are several serious issues:

  • The microbes haven’t read this explanation, and may not conform to the expectations of the Borough Council’s explanation that the infection risk is minimal
  • There are other pathogens to consider
  • Patients (residents) may not have been screened for the carriage of these or other pathogens unless there has been some clinical need. That does not make them, or their waste, less hazardous by risk of infection
  • The administrative mechanisms to integrate primary care and waste management is at best weak and is often ineffective. With little is any communication between primary care services and the Council officers, the notification of some specific infection risk, even if this risk is known, may not happen

“In the case of a person with MRSA,  this is classed as an infectious disease and thus would be dealt with on the clinical waste service.

“The council has considered the issue of separating collections previously, however reluctantly this matter has had to be addressed due to spiralling disposal costs for hazardous waste.

…which is a clear and honest, though perhaps slightly naive admission that cost comes before safety. Added to the poor understanding of microbiology and infectious disease, and of the practicalities of community care, the case is not well made.

The Rotherham Advertiser ran a poll among its readers:

Poll results as at 4 April 2011. Total number of votes not stated.


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