• Shadow health secretary calls on junior minister to “correct the record” over clinical waste statement
  • Jonathan Ashworth says Stephen Barclay’s comments ‘apparently contradict’ officials’ comments
  • It comes after HSJ reported that NHS Improvement and Environment Agency officials accepted there were problems with incineration capacity

The Labour Party has called on the government to explain why it “apparently contradicted” NHS and Environment Agency officials’ concerns over the capacity of incinerators to burn clinical waste.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth has said health minister Stephen Barclay should “correct the record”, after he last week dismissed claims that a huge backlog of clinical waste by a leading NHS waste management provider was caused by a lack of incineration capacity.

Mr Ashworth’s request comes after HSJ revealed officials at NHS Improvement and the Environment Agency privately admitted there were problems with incineration capacity, in August and May respectively.

The regulators have taken action against Healthcare Environmental Services by stripping the company of 15 contracts with NHS trusts in Yorkshire and Humber, and launching a criminal investigation into the company storing waste beyond the maximum level.

HES says its backlog has been caused by a lack of incineration capacity and the increasing amount of incineration-only waste it is collecting from trusts.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Ashworth said: “In the urgent question on clinical waste the minister of state explicitly denied the scandal was a result of a lack of incinerator capacity.

“Indeed when asked whether there was enough incinerator capacity the minister of state told the House ‘the answer to that is yes there is’.”

Mr Ashworth then cited HSJ’s story on Friday which included minutes of a cross-NHS meeting in which NHS Improvement’s sustainability lead Fiona Daly “acknowledged there appeared to be a national market capacity issue”.

The minutes also stated the group agreed “that there was (sic) longer term issues to address around waste management”, which included “further investment to increase national capacity and changes in the approach to offensive waste”.

And in May, Paul Fernee, a senior advisor on hazardous waste for the Environment Agency, wrote in an email that he was “aware of the unprecedented challenges we have with hazardous waste incinerators at this moment in time”.

Mr Ashworth said: “This all suggests that in fact the government was aware and does accept there is a clinical waste incinerator shortage.

”Could you [the speaker] tell us if the minister will come to make the statement to clear up this apparent contradiction and correct the record.”

He was backed by Yvette Cooper, in whose constituency HES’s Normanton site is placed - where waste levels were up to five times the permitted amount. 

Ms Cooper said: ”There’s a growing gap between what minister told the House and the reality that we’re seeing on the ground, including rumours that Mitie (which has taken over the 15 contracts from HES) does not have either [the] workforce, sites, or the lorries to deal with the majority of this waste.” 

HES, which was found to be storing excess waste across four of its sites by the Environment Agency, is continuing to provide waste management services for around 35 other trusts.

The company also provides a service for NHS England for collecting pharmacy and primary care waste in the north of England.

On Friday a spokesman for the Environment Agency said there was “industry-wide” agreement that there is enough incineration capacity to deal with clinical waste.

The Department of Health and Social Care added estimates that suggested there was more than 30,000 tonnes of spare capacity in the system, and that there was “significant capacity over and above that required by HES to perform its contract”.

The trusts and foundation trusts affected by HES’s problems include:

North Cumbria University Hospitals;

South Tyneside;

Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals;

Wye Valley;

Bradford District Care;

South London and Maudsley;

Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals;

Calderdale and Huddersfield;

Northern Lincolnshire and Goole;

Leeds Teaching Hospitals;

East and North Herts;

Harrogate and District ;

Mid Yorkshire Hospitals;

Northumbria Healthcare;

Whittington Health;

University Hospitals of Derby and Burton;

Leeds Community Healthcare;

Airedale;

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough;

Sheffield Health and Social Care;

York Teaching Hospitals;

Buckinghamshire Healthcare;

University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay;

Cambridgeshire Community Services;

Leeds and York Partnership;

Barnsley Hospital;

Sherwood Forest Hospitals;

University College London Hospitals;

Manchester University;

South Tees Hospitals;

South West Yorkshire Partnership;

North Tees and Hartlepool Hospitals;

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals;

Sheffield Children’s;

Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital:

Guy’s and St Thomas’;

Midland Partnership;

Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital;

Northumberland, Tyne and Wear;

Gateshead Health;

Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys: 

The Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital; and

Cumbria Partnership.