Staff made redundant at clinical waste firm after backlog controversy
Healthcare Environmental Services said it is to cease trading.
Hundreds of staff have been made redundant at a disposal company facing a probe over a pile-up of waste from the health service.
Healthcare Environmental Services (HES) became embroiled in a clinical waste stockpiling controversy earlier this year with the NHS, and it denied claims that human body parts were among items caught up in a backlog at its sites.
The company, based in North Lanarkshire, had contracts with the NHS in England and Scotland but it informed staff at its Shotts depot on Thursday that it is to cease trading.
HES is thought to employ 150 people in Shotts and 350 across the UK.
The company very much regrets that it has become necessary to make redundancies and that you have been affected. Garry Pettigrew, HES
A letter from HES managing director Garry Pettigrew said: “I apologise that there have been no previous consultations on this matter, however there are unforeseen circumstances that have proven to be outwith our control.”
HES had said a shortage of incinerators led to the backlog problem and it blamed “unfair Government pressure” on the business for the redundancy notices.
The letter, which was shared on social media, claimed a bank had withheld funds “due to pressure from political and market perception of our company”.
It read: “As a company, we have been exploring all avenues, both politically and commercially, through enterprise schemes and sales of parts and the whole of the business to try to secure the future of the employees and the company.
“We have been given no assistance at any time, from the politicians or enterprise bodies in England or Scotland, we have been unable to resolve matters, and accordingly the company will cease trading on December 27, 2018.”
In November, HES said it was to sue the NHS organisations which terminated their contracts.
The Environment Agency had previously said the firm was found to be in breach of permits at four of its six sites in England which deal with clinical waste, and a criminal investigation was launched.
It is time UK ministers took some responsibility and also agreed to an independent inquiry into their handling of this whole affair. Neil Gray MP
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency also previously confirmed it had issued enforcement notices at sites in Dundee and Shotts.
In the redundancy notice, HES said it was unable to make payments but it directed staff to the Redundancy Payment Service to claim money owed.
Mr Pettigrew’s letter said: “The company very much regrets that it has become necessary to make redundancies and that you have been affected.
“I would like to offer my sincere apology in this regard and to thank you for your hard work and contribution to the company during your employment.”
Airdrie and Shotts SNP MP Neil Gray said: “It seems clear that this situation could have been avoided but actions at a UK Government level have made it unavoidable.
“It is time UK ministers took some responsibility and also agreed to an independent inquiry into their handling of this whole affair.
“Alex Neil MSP and I have already written to the Scottish and UK governments asking for urgent intervention.”
The public need to have confidence that our NHS is equipped to cope. Monica Lennon, Scottish Labour MSP
Scottish Labour MSP Monica Lennon said: “This is another example of workers being treated appallingly over the Christmas period and is a devastating blow to the Shotts community.
“HES held clinical waste contracts with 18 Scottish health boards and whilst waste contingency plans have been activated, people are rightly asking where is the help for the workers?
“The public need to have confidence that our NHS is equipped to cope and that reports of clinical waste being stockpiled are under control.
“Scottish ministers and their UK Government counterparts must make an urgent statement and commit to fully investigating exactly what has gone on, especially as a new NHS Scotland contract is due to be awarded in the new year.
“The Scottish Government must confirm what assistance is currently in place for the HES workforce and if TUPE arrangements (employee protections) can be put in place.”
Scottish Government Business Minister Jamie Hepburn said: “I am very concerned to learn that employees of Healthcare Environmental Services have been told they are being made redundant and the impact this will have on them and their families.
“We have contacted the company previously on a number of occasions, most recently on Wednesday (December 26) when we offered to come on site to provide support to employees through our initiative for responding to redundancy situations, Partnership Action for Continuing Employment (Pace).
“We did not receive a response but have provided the company with information on Pace support. After previously not engaging with this offer of support we hope that the company will now do so to assist their employees.
“Through providing skills development and employability support, Pace aims to minimise the time individuals affected by redundancy are out of work.”