Criminal probe launched over backlog of body parts at UK disposal sites

Yvette Cooper MP at the site of Healthcare Environmental Group Ltd. in Normanton where it is believed that over 350 tonnes of medical waste is stockpiled

Yvette Cooper MP at the site of Healthcare Environmental Group Ltd. in Normanton where it is believed that over 350 tonnes of medical waste is stockpiled

It emerged on Thursday that the waste from hospitals had not been disposed of in a timely fashion by contractor Healthcare Environmental Services.

The Environment Agency announced that it has found the firm in breach of its permits at five of its six sites.

The UK government's Department of Health said there was no risk to the public.

The Environment Agency was first alerted to the fact that Healthcare Environment Services Ltd had a backlog of waste - including body parts - building up.

The NHS documents reveal that Healthcare Environment Services Ltd. allowed human waste, including amputated limbs and waste linked to cancer treatment, to build up to unsustainable levels due to a lack of incineration capacity, the journal reported.

HSJ, which was leaked documents from NHS England, reported Government held a Cobra meeting chaired by Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, last month over the issue.

The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) is reportedly monitoring the Healthcare Environmental sites in Scotland, while an EA spokesperson said the company was in breach of its environmental permits at the five English sites, adding: "We are taking enforcement action against the operator, which includes clearance of the excess waste, and have launched a criminal investigation".

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".

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"This was serious enough to have a criminal investigation and serious enough to go to a Cobra meeting, and yet there was no statement to parliament or to the local community". "Healthcare Environmental has been in discussion with the environmental regulators and has consistently highlighted these issues", the company said.

Leaked documents have revealed that the Environment Agency (EA) served Healthcare Environmental with 13 warning notices and two compliance notices in the a year ago for not incinerating the waste in a timely fashion.

The Environment Agency has taken a range of action with the company to bring their sites back into compliance but they have repeatedly breached permits and continued to operate unlawfully.

'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'. Both the company and NHS National Services Scotland refused to confirm whether it had bid but as the incumbent it would be expected to be a frontrunner.

A health trust which runs Calderdale Royal Hospital has contingency plans in place for waste collection, if a company accused of stockpiling hundreds of tonnes of human waste runs into more trouble.

The company said it has "welcomed" visits from the Environment Agency a number of times over the past few months and has pointed out to them that the amount of waste produced by the NHS for incineration, "far outweighs the entire incineration capabilities of the UK".

A spokesman added: "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".

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