Criminal probe launched over backlog of UK body parts

Scots scientists use rare metal to develop pioneering treatment for prostate cancer

The Environment Agency has found Healthcare Environmental Services in breach of its environmental permits at 4 of its 6 sites which deal with clinical waste - by having more waste on site than their permit allows and storing waste inappropriately.

Healthcare Environment Services is understood to have been monitored closely since the Environment Agency notified the government of the issue in late July. 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.

"We have a contract for waste collection which is continuing as usual".

HES, which made a £15.4m profit a year ago, claims that the UK's "ageing incinerators and strict disposal policies" make it impossible to keep up with demand, leading to a "signifiant amount of excess waste being stored at its sites", The Independent says.

"We are not the only company to feel the strain on our services, with many of our competitors continually breaching storage regulations", it added.

With pressure building on the government, the Labour MP Yvette Cooper asked why parliament had not been told that the health secretary, Matt Hancock, chaired a Cobra committee meeting last month amid concern about a potential health hazard over the firm's failure to get rid of the waste.

The Environment Agency said: 'We are taking enforcement action and have launched a criminal investigation'.

"There has been no disruption to our customers' services whilst we have been dealing with this issue".

As part of our enforcement activity, we have partially suspended the company's permit at one of their sites.

A backlog of waste, which is reported to include amputated limbs and pharmaceutical waste, is the result of a reduction in incineration infrastructure capacity, the company says.

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But Mr Dainton questioned how the health risks could be properly assessed.

A Sepa spokesman said: "Sepa is aware of developments in England and is working closely with the Environment Agency".

It is the company's responsibility to clear its sites and operate legally. "Healthcare Environmental has been in discussion with the environmental regulators and has consistently highlighted these issues", the company said.

The waste is being stored in secure refrigerated containers and there is "no risk" to the public, said the Department of Health and Social Care.

"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".

Cooper asked if the problem was a much wider one involving the national waste strategy, or an issue around the monitoring of companies involved.

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'.

The contractor removes the waste from a significant number, but not all, hospitals in England and Scotland.

The Scottish government said there had been no reports of any impact on these services from NHS boards in Scotland.

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