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What is Healthcare Environmental Services? The medical waste firm embroiled in national scandal

Healthcare Environmental Services, which provides medical waste services for many healthcare trusts and hospitals across the UK, hit the headlines this week after it was found to be stockpiling hundreds of tonnes of human body parts and dangerous clinical waste

One company is responsible for clearing much of the medical waste produced by the UK’s hospitals – but what is Healthcare Environmental Services?

Healthcare Environmental Services Ltd is now embroiled in a national scandal after it was discovered the company was stockpiling amputated limbs and dangerous clinical waste after its incinerators were struggling to keep up with demand.

In leaked documents, seen by the Health Services Journal, excess waste levels had reached 350 tonnes in September, five-times more than the company’s 70-tonne limit.

The majority of the waste was made up of human body parts, surgical waste and “hazardous” pharmaceutical waste.

In a statement, Health Environmental Services Ltd said: “Healthcare Environmental has highlighted the reduction in the UK’s high-temperature incineration capacity for the last few years.

“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.

“Over the last year, this reduced incineration capacity has been evident across all of the industry and has affected all companies.

“Healthcare Environmental has been in discussion with the environmental regulators and has consistently highlighted these issues, whilst we have maintained service to all our clients.”

 

What is Healthcare Environmental Services? The background

Healthcare Environmental Services – also known by the company name Healthcare Environmental Group – is the largest private medical waste management company in the UK.

It was founded more than 20 years ago and serves 50 NHS trusts, operating in eight regional centres across England and Scotland.

The company has headquarters in Shotts, North Lanarkshire, and claims to provide medical disposal services to 99% of Scottish hospitals and primary care trusts.

Medical waste is stored by Health Environmental Services (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The waste management company collects 584 tonnes of “incineration-only” waste and claims that its processing plants achieve sterilisation levels that are 200% above the UK standard.

It operates a fleet of more than 120 vehicles that collect medical waste 24 hours a day.

In its latest confirmation statement on Companies House, it recorded a sales growth of 18% to over £31m.

This was described as mainly a result of a new treatment plant in Newcastle.

 

What is Healthcare Environmental Services? Other services

The company offers a range of waste management services including disposal of radioactive waste, electronic waste, needles disposal, pharmaceutical waste and other hazardous waste such as aerosol cans, fluorescent tubing and lead-acid batteries.

Its website states: “Our services are underpinned by decades of accumulated knowledge and expertise, and tailored to match your specific requirements.”

More recently, Health Environmental Services has invested in a £10m eco-park in order to transform medical waste into energy.

The plant, which finished construction in 2014, is capable of processing 35,000 tonnes of waste products each year.

 

What is Healthcare Environmental Services? Government’s response to scandal

The scandal had been kept out of the public domain for weeks, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock chairing a COBRA meeting last month and reportedly ordering £1m to be set aside to help solve the problem.

Since news broke yesterday (4 October), the Environment Agency revealed a criminal investigation has now been launched.

However, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “There is absolutely no risk to the health of patients or the wider public.

“We are monitoring the situation closely and have made sure that public services – including NHS trusts have contingency plans in place.”