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Waste disposal firm concerns raised months before it ceased trading, MSPs told

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said contingency arrangements were drawn up to ensure continued clinical waste collection across Scotland.

Northern head office of Healthcare Environment Services Ltd in Shotts, North Lanarkshire (Lucinda Cameron/PA)
Northern head office of Healthcare Environment Services Ltd in Shotts, North Lanarkshire (Lucinda Cameron/PA)

The Scottish Government was made aware of concerns about a clinical waste disposal firm several months before it ceased trading and made hundreds of staff redundant.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman told MSPs in a statement at Holyrood that Department of Health officials contacted the Scottish Government in August 2018 raising concerns about huge backlogs of clinical waste at Healthcare Environmental Services (HES) sites in England.

She said contingency plans were drawn up, at an initial cost of £1.4 million to the Scottish Government, but at the time HES were not in breach of environmental permits, licences or storage limits in Scotland.

The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency later issued four enforcement notices and HES told NHS boards across Scotland it could not fulfil its contracted obligations on December 7 and ceased trading on December 27.

It was the company who breached its contracts with 18 NHS boards, leaving Scotland's A&E departments, our hospitals, our community health centres, GP practices and dentists without essential clinical waste services Health Secretary Jeane Freeman

Ms Freeman said the Government had taken steps to try to secure the December wages not paid to staff and that of the 262 people entitled to redundancy across Scotland and England, 244 have now received it.

A new contract for NHS services in Scotland, worth up to £10 million a year for a decade, with UK firm Tradebe Healthcare Ltd, is expected to be completed by the end of January.

Ms Freeman said: “It was the company who breached its contracts with 18 NHS boards, leaving Scotland’s A&E departments, our hospitals, our community health centres, GP practices and dentists without essential clinical waste services.”

She said services continued due to the contingency arrangements, which remain in place and will do so until the new contract commences in April, which she said will “further improve how NHS waste is managed”.

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Jeane Freeman said a new contract of up to £100 million was nearing completion (Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament/PA)

She added: “Throughout, our priority has been to ensure measures are in place so that NHS Scotland can continue to receive clinical waste services and that public safety is ensured.

“There have been no reports that patient care has been affected or public safety compromised and we are working to ensure that this remains the case.”

Last week, MSPS were told of a backlog of between 250 and 300 tonnes of clinical waste and 10 tonnes of anatomical waste at Scottish HES sites in Dundee and Shotts, North Lanarkshire.

HES has previous denied claims human body parts were among waste stockpiled at its sites but Environment Agency reports said the company stored remains of NHS patients in unrefrigerated units for more than six months.

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