An NHS contractor has been forced to stockpile hundreds of tonnes of human body parts and waste, sparking a major national incident.
Amputated limbs and waste material from cancer treatments sent to Healthcare Environment Services Ltd (HES) have built up to unsustainable levels due to a lack of incineration capacity, according to leaked documents seen by the Health Services Journal.
Around 50 NHS trusts are served by HES and an emergency COBRA meeting last month earmarked £1m to provide specialist trailers to store the waste.
HES is attempting to send 750 tonnes of waste to be disposed of in Holland.
At one site in Normanton, West Yorkshire, excess waste levels reached 350 tonnes in September, the HSJ reported.
This is five times more than the company’s 70 tonne limit, and a small proportion of it is believed to have been human body parts.
Up to 50 trusts have contracts with the company, the HSJ said, but they are not believed to be experiencing disruption to waste collection.
Dr Kathy McLean, chief operating officer and executive medical director of NHS Improvement, said: “The NHS has contingency plans in place for clinical waste and patients should be assured that their care will be unaffected.”
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said there is “absolutely no risk” to public health.
A government spokesman added: “We are monitoring the situation closely and have made sure that public services – including NHS Trusts – have contingency plans in place. There is absolutely no risk to the health of patients or the wider public.
“Our priority is to prevent disruption to the NHS and other vital public services and work is under way to ensure organisations can continue to dispose of their waste safely and efficiently.”
In a statement HES, told HuffPost UK: “Healthcare Environmental has highlighted the reduction in the UK’s high-temperature incineration capacity for the last few years. This is down to the ageing infrastructure, prolonged breakdowns and the reliance on zero waste to landfill policies, taking up the limited high-temperature incineration capacity in the market.
“Over the last year, this reduced incineration capacity has been evident across all of the industry and has affected all companies. Healthcare Environmental has been in discussion with the environmental regulators and has consistently highlighted these issues, whilst we have maintained service to all our clients. There has been no disruption to our customers’ services whilst we have been dealing with this issue.
“We are working closely with our various disposal sites, including utilising our own £13m new waste to energy facility to reduce the volume on site, whilst maintaining services.”
Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, said: “These are staggering revelations and given the number of NHS Trusts involved, along with wider environmental health implications, I’m disappointed the Health Secretary didn’t inform Parliament last month.
“We need a statement in the Commons next week from ministers detailing when the government was first informed of this stockpiling, what support is now available to Trusts and what contingency plans are in place for the future.”