Postal restrictions on the carriage of biohazardous materials and sharps

UK postal restrictions forbid the packaging and shipment of small quantities of sharps to some distant disposal centre, even when packages in a sealed ISO-compliant sharps container and suitably impervious outer wrapper.

That creates a problem for many community-based sharps users who must package their used insulin syringes and take these to a co-operating high street pharmacy, to a GP surgery of to the local hospital. Since funding for this additional waste stream is often overlooked and does not flow equitably from the PCT patients are often left to struggle to find someone who will take their sharps waste.

Let’s not fool ourselves into believing that in the US they have it right, since in may States the management of sharps from domestic users is simply appalling. However, some States and cities do operate or permit a sharps by post service. These seem to operate well, with no reported incidents. They must save money, and make life easier for all.

So, why not in the UK? The official answer if to blame Europe, which forbids shipment of bio-hazardous materials by post.

But in the UK, the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme, operates nationally to invite all over-60s to send 3 tiny samples of faeces to a central testing lab. All for the very best of reasons, and repeated through advancing age, the programme seeks to identify those who warrant further and more detailed investigation for the detection of early, and very much treatable, bowel cancer.

How does it work? Just 3 smears of faeces on a set of test cards folded into a paper envelope. With name and dates etc clearly marked, these are placed into a simply unpadded plastic pre-paid envelope and sent 1st class letter post to the lab.

If this is permissible under UK (or European) postal regulations then why not the shipment of suitable sealed  and packaged small sharps bins for personal use?

Is there a hygiene risk? A risk of spillage, perhaps of faeces, or of sharps penetration though an ISO-compliant bin? Is the welfare or health & safety of postal workers in jeopardy? Is there some de minimis scale of bio-hazardous materials, and do thousands of faecal smears fall below the line?

It seems, regrettably, that we have looked at Post Office regulations and talked our way out of a perfectly good method for disposal of small numbers of used sharps that might arise from trustworthy and competent patients who might otherwise struggle to dispose of their used sharps.

What a great shame that is.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.