HES collapse 'put NHS at risk' and cost Scottish government £1.4m
MSPs have been told that the collapse of clinical waste firm HES put Scotland's health service at risk.
In a statement to parliament, Jeane Freeman said the cost of contingency plans, after the Shotts-based company stopped trading in December, was £1.4m.
Ms Freeman admitted that bags of clinical waste had backed-up at some hospitals and GP surgeries while contingency arrangements bedded in.
But she said there was no risk to the environment or local communities.
She told MSPs: "Scotland's health services were placed at risk as a result of HES breaching its contract.
"Contingency arrangements developed in anticipation of just such an event - developed in consultation with National Services Scotland (NSS), Sepa and a range of other partners ensured there was no disruption to frontline services."
She told the Scottish Parliament chamber the blame for the situation lied with the company.
Ms Freeman said: "If there is a fiasco here at all it is not one of this government's making - any break in services was caused by a private sector company failing to honour its contract.
She added: "The Scottish government will continue to support former employees to access monies owed and benefits to which they may be entitled, but that relies heavily on the co-operation of the company's directors."
Healthcare Environmental Services (HES) lost its NHS England contracts after reports emerged in October that human body parts and other clinical waste was piling up after the company struggled to incinerate it.
Soon after, NHS Scotland announced that the firm would not have its contract continued north of the border when it came up for renewal in April.
The company, whose directors are Garry and Alison Pettigrew, ceased trading on 27 December, making all of its staff redundant and failing to pay their December salaries.
It had warned the Scottish government it may not be able to fulfil its contract on 7 December.
Contingency measures were put in place which saw a string of temporary contractors take over the HES work to ensure clinical waste continued to be disposed of safely.
The Scottish government said these measures were working well but photographs showing bags of clinical waste piled at three health centres in North Lanarkshire have been posted on social media.
There have since been reports of a backlog of waste at some NHS sites and, in Inverness, four porters at Raigmore Hospital were injured carrying out work involving clinical waste.
The collapse of HES saw 150 workers in Scotland lose their jobs. Only those with more than two years' service could claim statutory redundancy.
Many are now taking action against the company through employment tribunals.
The health secretary revealed that of the 262 staff across Scotland and England entitled to receive redundancy payments, 244 have now received payments from UK Insolvency Service.
But she said that efforts to engage with the directors of HES has been fruitless, and that business minister Jamie Hepburn had sought the company's permission to speak to HSBC bank about releasing funds to pay staff wages owed, but had been refused.
She told MSPs she was not satisfied at all, believing the employees of the company had not been treated fairly or well.
Ms Freeman said: "It is a particularly difficult time of year at Christmas to be told you have lost your job - but to be told that with absolutely no notice and to not be paid the wages you are due is completely unacceptable.
"So, no, I am not satisfied with how it has carried out its contractual obligations to our national health service or its absolute contractual and other obligations to its workforce.
"We have been trying, (the Scottish government and Scottish Enterprise), to help and offer support to HES since the autumn of last year and have had little if any co-operation at all."
She added: "In terms of the health service contract, to be advised in a very short space of time that you cannot meet your contractual obligations, and in an equally short space of time to say you've ceased trading and packed up shop, is not the way, in my opinion, that anyone who takes their contractual obligations seriously would behave."