Health

NHS waste scandal firm has been 'vilified', boss says

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Media captionGarry Pettigrew told the BBC that his company had been "vilified for providing an excellent service"

The boss of the firm at the centre of the NHS clinical waste scandal has hit back against claims of mismanagement.

Garry Pettigrew, managing director of Healthcare Environmental Services, told the BBC his company had been "vilified for providing an excellent service".

The firm has been stripped of NHS contracts after hundreds of tonnes of clinical waste piled up at its sites.

But Mr Pettigrew said the problems were caused by a shortage of incinerators rather than the company's actions.

The Environment Agency has taken enforcement action against North Lanarkshire-based HES and has launched a criminal investigation.

On Tuesday, Health Minister Stephen Barclay told Parliament that NHS Improvement had concluded that HES "failed to demonstrate that they were operating within their contractual limits".

As a result, 15 NHS Trusts in England had served notices to terminate their contracts with the firm, he said.

The contracts it has with more than 30 other trusts in England are still ongoing.

The Environment Agency previously said HES was in breach of its environmental permits at four of its six sites which deal with clinical waste - by having more waste on site than their permit allows and storing waste inappropriately.

HES is to retain its NHS contracts in Scotland.

In an exclusive interview with the BBC, Mr Pettigrew denied suggestions that his company had mismanaged services, instead blaming the problems on a "major drop" in incineration capacity since 2015.

'Enough capacity'

On Tuesday, Mr Barclay insisted there was "significant" additional incineration capacity.

"We have basically got to the point of where we are today where the lack of incineration capacity was just getting worse," Mr Pettigrew said.

"At every part of this we have been talking to the Environment Agency. We thought they would be able to help."

An Environment Agency spokesman told the BBC: "There is industry-wide agreement that there is enough capacity to deal with clinical waste and our site inspections show the rest of the sector is performing well.

"However, Healthcare Environmental Services has significantly and repeatedly breached its environmental permits by storing excess waste at a number of its sites.

"We have taken a range of action with the company but they have continued to operate unlawfully. As a result, in addition to our enforcement activity to clear the sites, we have launched a criminal investigation."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption HES is based in Shotts, North Lanarkshire

But Mr Pettigrew said he felt his company had been treated unfairly.

"We have been a success story up until last week, and all of a sudden now everyone sees this as being a horror story," he said.

"We feel it's a horror story, but purely because in reality we've told the truth and at the moment, we don't feel the news is getting out there in the way we would like it to."

'Jewel in the crown'

Mr Pettigrew also denied allegations that the waste that built up on sites included human body parts, such as amputated limbs.

He said: "None of that is true.

"Every single part that people are referring to there is dealt with securely, professionally, and any anatomical waste would be stored in fridges and at the same time prioritised for outward bound."

It was put to Mr Pettigrew that former staff at HES had contacted the BBC to allege there had been a range of unsafe and unhygienic practices.

"The reality is, our sites work within permit, we've worked within compliance."

Mr Pettigrew also rejected suggestions that the firm had not been equipped to properly run the services.

Image copyright Reuters

"I'd refute all of that.

"We've had this contract since 2010. If you go back to the articles in 2010, this was the jewel in the crown of NHS England, that we had saved them £30m by awarding this contract to us.

"For the last eight years we have done this contract and never seen the situation we are in now."

Mr Pettigrew also claimed that he knew of medical waste being stored in shipping containers at hospitals as a result of HES being stripped of some of its contracts.

"The contractors and the site this waste will now be going to will not be meeting the high standards our facilities met," he said.

"I know just now that waste is being stored in hospitals in shipping containers, and shipping containers are being lined with black liners to stop liquids, whatever else, coming out of this. It's been put into skips.

"We operate obviously UN-approved containers and specialist vehicles with specialist drivers. Not one of the companies who are dealing with this just now can cope with this. And at the same time as well, they don't have this specialist equipment because this is a very unique industry."

A government spokesman said: "Strong governance arrangements are in place to ensure the new contract continues to dispose of waste in a safe and timely fashion. There has been no gap in service provision while the new contract has come into place and we are confident this will remain the case."

The government has previously said that there was "absolutely no risk" posed to the health of patients or the wider public.

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