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Hospitals in England are dealing with huge buildups of used personal protective equipment (PPE) after a US-based waste removal company struggled to deal with extra demand from the pandemic.
The US firm Stericycle, which operates in the UK, said it had had to carry out maintenance work on incineration capacity for the north of England due to “unprecedented pressure” created by Covid-19. It is working at a “reduced level” in some areas.
Another waste management company has been called in by NHS England to help clear away some of the buildups around hospitals.
But critics have raised concerns about infection control as the problem has occurred during a pandemic. Justin Madders, a shadow health minister, said it was “deeply troubling” that potentially contaminated personal protective equipment was not being “disposed of in a timely manner because of private sector failures”.
He said: “Infection control is vital in clinical settings at all times, and even more so at a time when we need to do absolutely everything to reduce infection levels.” Madders said ministers should step in to make “sure conditions are as safe and hygienic as possible”.
An NHS spokesperson said: “Mitigations are in place for the waste backlog produced as a result of additional PPE used during Covid and trusts are clearing their backlog as soon as possible.”
One person who works in this field, who asked to remain anonymous, said there had been reports of vermin infestations as a result of uncollected waste and that they had raised concern about this happening during a pandemic, when infection control is vital.
“If you think about it, Stericycle is paid by the NHS as a public sector organisation receiving contracts in the millions – that is millions of pounds of taxpayer money given to company not doing the job and not compensating trusts,” they said.
There was no response from Stericycle to the question about whether trusts would be compensated.
The hospitals affected include Barnsley hospital trust, Blackpool teaching hospitals, and hospitals in the Cheshire and Merseyside area. All trusts have been approached for comment. Issues raised include missed or irregular collections.
A Stericycle spokesperson said: “While service continues, it is currently at a reduced level in some areas. We are in discussion with our customers to explain our efforts and implement contingency arrangements. These include daily liaison with affected NHS customers, engaging third parties to accelerate the removal of waste and a round-the-clock triple shift to complete the maintenance works as quickly as possible.”
As a result of the Covid pandemic, the health sector has generated three times the volume of infectious waste that would normally be produced. Regulatory support from the Environment Agency and the Department for Transport is opening up additional capacity.
Stericycle’s cashflow from operations increased to $530.2m (£383m) for 2020, compared with $248m (£179m) in 2019. The company’s shares have inched up 1% in the past year.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Concerns over huge buildup of used PPE at hospitals in England | Society