Hundreds of tonnes of body parts have been stockpiled by a major outsourcer in the latest privatisation scandal to hit the NHS.
Healthcare Environment Services (HES) is facing a criminal investigation after it let body parts and pharmaceutical waste build up at its five waste disposal sites. Stockpiled hazardous materials included amputated limbs, infectious liquids and waste linked to cancer treatment.
The body parts have now been put into cold storage, raising the question of how they were kept before.
A leaked document to the Health Service Journal website revealed that HES has 350 tonnes of waste at its Normanton site in West Yorkshire. That’s five times the official limit of 70 tonnes.
A letter signed by HES managing director Garry Pettigrew last month claimed there was a “witch hunt” based on “complete lies” against the company.
But the Environment Agency issued HES with 13 warning notices and two compliance notices in the last year alone. And that was precisely because the company was not disposing of waste quickly enough.
Hospitals could be left in a difficult position if the HES’s waste disposal contracts collapse as a result of the investigation.
The company is one of the largest waste disposal providers with contracts to 50 NHS hospital trusts. They include Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospital Trust in east London and East and North Hertfordshire Trust.
Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust and Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust in West Yorkshire have also been affected.
The Tories are clearly worried about the scale of the scandal and tried to keep it under wraps. News of the NES’s failings only came out after information was leaked.
Health secretary Matt Hancock held a meeting of the Cobra national emergency committee on 13 September. After the meeting Hancock agreed to a regulatory probe of HES and said that it was “expected to lead to imminent cessation of waste collection” by the company.
The Tories have been forced to put aside £1 million for hospitals to have waste disposal vans on site.
But there was no public statement.
The scandal is another consequence of privatisation as a whole, not just a negligent company. Waste disposal contracts should be brought back in house, not handed over to profit-maximising companies.
Health campaigners and workers have put the Tories and hospital bosses onto the back foot around privatisation.
The collapse of outsourcing giant Carillion earlier this year forced them to change tack and try privatisation by stealth.
Some hospitals set up “wholly-owned subsidiaries”—privately-registered companies owned by the NHS—as a bridgehead to full-blown privatisation. But strikes and campaigning has forced bosses to pause the drive to set up new ones.
Health campaigners should seize on the body parts scandal and drive out HES and the other private companies out of their hospitals. It could give another boost to the fight to roll back privatisation within the NHS.
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Spring budget to come out on Wednesday 6 March