Neighbours of a waste disposal unit stockpiling 350 tonnes of amputated limbs and human flesh today complained about the ‘foul’ smell.
Healthcare Environmental Services’ site in Normanton, West Yorkshire, is currently housing five times more clinical waste than its permit allows.
The troubled firm – seeking to ship 750 tonnes of its waste to the Netherlands – is paid millions to burn waste from hospitals at 50 trusts across England – but reportedly took on too much work.
Instead of burning the material – which includes amputated limbs and waste from cancer treatment – it has been stockpiling it for months at four sites. A criminal investigation is under way.
It comes as health chiefs have asked six other waste disposal firms to step in and help NHS hospitals amid the ongoing crisis.
The Government has called on the help of waste disposal firms Augean, Grundon, PHS, Stericycle/SRCL, Tradebe and Veolia, it has been reported.
Local health chiefs have already been warned that they may have to store their own waste in special trailers directly outside hospitals.
The Department of Health and Social Care, behind the plans, denied the risk would pose a threat to patients at the hospitals or the wider public.
Clinical waste at HES’ site has since been placed in fridges, according to the Health Service Journal. Its permit has since been suspended for the site.
A receptionist at a company that backs directly onto the HES site today said there is a ‘foul’ smell at least once a week from the business.
The unnamed man, who works at YESSSelectrical, said: ‘There is a bit of a weird smell at times.’ He said he and his colleagues notice it ‘every now and again’.
Letsrecycle today reported the Environment Agency had approved the six other waste firms to help deal with ‘additional volumes of clinical waste’.
As well as HES’ site in Normanton, its sites in Newcastle, Nottingham and Bradford have breached its environmental permits.
The Environment Agency, which yesterday revealed five sites had breached permits, today said one of the sites was no longer in breach. It has begun a criminal investigation.
Scottish hospitals are preparing emergency plans to store clinical waste amid fears HES may be unable to process it north of the Border.
The scandal-hit firm, based in Shotts, Lanarkshire, holds the Scotland-wide contract for clinical waste removal. It is understood HES has contracts with 50 health trusts in England.
HES is reportedly attempting to export 750 tonnes of pharmaceutical waste to the Netherlands, according to the HSJ.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock chaired an emergency COBRA meeting last month and ordered £1million to be earmarked to help the 50 NHS trusts.
But news of the scandal only broke yesterday. Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the revelations were ‘staggering’.
He demanded to know why MPs were not informed about the major incident when it first emerged.
Mr Ashworth 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.’
Most hospitals in the UK have contracts with incineration firms to collect and dispose of their clinical waste rather than doing it themselves on site.
The material includes body parts from operations and amputations, old drugs – which can be hazardous – and used equipment.
NHS sources said the company had taken on too much work and was not able to dispose of the waste in a timely manner.
Other affected hospital trusts include Barking, Havering and Redbridge in Essex, Calderdale and Huddersfield in West Yorkshire, East and North Hertfordshire Trust and Northern Lincolnshire and Goole. They have all reportedly been told to stop paying HES for the contracts.
The Environment Agency was first alerted to the problem in March this year and hit the company with a series of warning notices and enforcement orders giving them deadline to get rid of the waste.
But the company failed to meet the deadlines, and the agency alerted the Government to the problem in July.
A COBRA meeting was held in September where emergency funds were allocated to help hospitals affected.
Despite the scandal, the company is still allowed to operate as it has a responsibility to get through its backlog of waste.
HES, a business founded 20 years ago and states ‘medical waste’ as an area of expertise, has said the blame lies with Britain’s creaking incinerator system.
The company said it has been warning the authorities for years that ‘ageing infrastructure’ and ‘prolonged breakdowns’ mean that firms which dispose of clinical waste cannot get through it quickly enough.
But the Environment Agency dismissed the accusation – saying it had carried out an audit of the sector and no other company had reported similar problems.
It said the UK had experienced ‘reduced incineration capacity’ over the last year, which it had repeatedly highlighted to authorities.
An Environment Agency spokeswoman said: ‘We are taking enforcement action against the operator, which includes clearance of the excess waste, and have launched a criminal investigation.
‘We are supporting the Government and the NHS to ensure there is no disruption to public services and for alternative plans to be put in place for hospitals affected to dispose of their waste safely.’
A Government spokesman said: ‘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.’
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.’
A spokesman for Healthcare Environmental Services said: ‘HES 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.’
It added that it had ‘consistently highlighted’ the issue to environmental regulators, and there has been no disruption to services to customers.