The government has hit back at claims that there is not enough incineration capacity to burn waste from NHS hospitals and accused the company at the centre of a stockpiling scandal of refusing to pay for disposal. 

Junior health minister Steve Barclay said there was 2,269 tonnes of incineration capacity available in England in October, after shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth asked him on Tuesday to “correct the record”.

It comes after HSJ revealed officials at NHS Improvement and Environment Agency privately admitted there were capacity issues with clinical waste incineration, shortly before a leading waste management supplier to the NHS was found to be stockpiling huge amounts of waste – of which around 1.1 per cent included human body parts.

Fifteen NHS trusts terminated their contracts with Healthcare Environmental Services 10 days ago. Since then both Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust and Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals Trust have followed suit.  

Outsourcing giant Mitie has stepped in to take over the contracts, and is subcontracting services out to other suppliers.

Mr Barclay said “far more due diligence” had been carried out around incineration capacity, since August – when minutes from an NHS meeting quoted NHSI’s sustainability lead Fiona Daly saying there was a “national market capacity issue”.

He said NHSI was alerted to HES’s stockpiling on 31 July. The NHS meeting took place on 20 August.

Since taking over services at the trusts, in the Yorkshire and Humber region, Mitie has secured 1,000 tonnes of incineration capacity for clinical waste which suggested there was sufficient capacity – Mr Barclay said.

“The issue is whether HES are willing to pay for that capacity,” Mr Barclay added.

He said three trusts have had their stock of waste fully removed from their sites, while another 12 trusts are scheduled to have it removed by the end of the week.

The contingency plans, which include trusts storing extra waste in temporary containers, would remain until Mitie is able to run the contracts at “100 per cent”, he said.

Mr Barclay also said NHS Improvement had identified 2,269 tonnes of available incineration capacity in October, and stated HES collected 595 tonnes from the trusts it served.

Garry Pettigrew, managing director of HES, said the additional capacity referred to by Mr Barclay had only been freed up after the Environment Agency issued a temporary permit to waste management company Grundon, which allows them to burn hazardous waste in a municipal incinerator.

This is not usually allowed by the Environment Agency, which can grant permission in certain circumstances.

The Environment Agency’s permit for this extra capacity was granted on August 23.

The 17 trusts and foundation trusts which terminated the contracts with HES are: 

Leeds Teaching Hospitals;

Sheffield Children’s;

Airedale; 

Barnsley Hospital;

Bradford District Care;

Bradford Teaching Hospitals;

Calderdale and Huddersfield;

Harrogate District Hospital;

Humber Teaching;

Leeds and York Partnership;

Northern Lincolnshire and Goole;

Sheffield Health and Social Care; 

York Teaching Hospital;

Mid Yorkshire Hospital;

Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals; 

South West Yorkshire Partnership; and

Leeds Community Healthcare.