Shocking new images showing mountains of clinical waste stockpiled in a disposal site reveal the true scale of the NHS body parts scandal.
Tonnes of fluorescent orange and yellow bags stuffed with infectious waste were pictured spilling out of overflowing bins at Healthcare Environmental Services’ (HES) base in Benton, North Tyneside.
Fridges still sit full of human heads, torsos, arms and legs from surgical training in the city, according to a whistleblower at the troubled firm – although none of the fridges containing body parts have been pictured.
News of the scandal broke in October when HES was found to have hundreds of tonnes of clinical waste, including body parts, stockpiled at its sites.
Mountains of clinical waste fill an entire HES warehouse at the firm’s disposal site in Benton
Yellow bags and tubs filled with infectious waste such as filthy needles spill out of bins at the site
The firm was stripped of its contracts with NHS trusts because a watchdog investigation revealed it wasn’t disposing of waste quickly enough.
The images, sent in by the former employee at the Benton site as part of an investigation by The Chronicle, show bins filled to the brim with infectious waste, dangerous medicines used in cancer treatment and filthy needles.
Pallets stand stacked on top of one another with waste collected over previous months ready to be incinerated.
HES lost its contracts with NHS Scotland and 17 NHS trusts in England but denied it was responsible for stockpiling body parts.
The English and Scottish health boards have now cancelled their contracts, causing the firm’s collapse.
An overflowing pile of orange bin bags filled with clinical waste nearly touch the ceiling after being stockpiled by HES
Pallets stand stacked on top of one another with waste collected over previous months ready to be incinerated
The pictures – taken over the course of several months towards the end of 2018 – were provided by a former Newcastle-based employee.
The staffer, who said the site has not been cleared since the firm’s collapse, claimed The Benton site remains full of clinical, pharmaceutical, and surgical waste and that flies were being attracted to the site by the rotting waste.
They also said an estimated 60 bins worth of clinical waste are still ‘lying around’ in the depot hall.
The Benton site was found to contain 165 tonnes of waste, more than three times the permitted limit of 50 tonnes.
Waste was also being stored in trailers in the site’s yard against regulations.
‘Some days the smell got horrendous. Plant operatives sometimes came in saying they couldn’t work because of it,’ the employee said.
Former employees say the site is plagued with flies attracted to the rotting smell of the waste
Orange bags stuffed with potentially infectious waste lay in a corridor after spilling out of overflowing bins and
‘Flies were gathering on the waste which was starting to rot. The waste was coming in on a regular basis – that wasn’t the problem – but it was getting stockpiled because it was not getting disposed of in an incinerator.
‘At the end of the day, HES have been paid to dispose the waste and it has not been done.’
HES’ collapse has led to around 50 staff members at the Benton base being issued with redundancy notices on December 27.
HES’ site in Benton (pictured), North Tyneside, is now at the centre of a criminal investigation
All 400 staff – nationwide – at HES, were given redundancy notices on in December, leading employees to appeal to their former employer to pay for their lost wages.
About 350 HES employees asked Garry Pettigrew and his wife Alison to pay their December salaries.
Company bosses claim there was no cash to pay wages and workers should claim statutory redundancy from the Redundancy Payment Service.
But staff argue they have been given no insolvency reference number which has left them penniless and in limbo.
Rows of bins filled to the brim with hospital waste fill the entire warehouse in Benton
The former employee claims staff at the Newcastle site have not been paid since November 28, and some colleagues have been left up to £3,000 out of pocket.
They added: ‘It was like getting smacked in the face.
‘It would have been a different kettle of fish had it happened in June or July. Come New Years’ Day, you are thinking where is the money going to come from?
‘We want to get out there and make sure it’s covered across the whole of the UK. They can’t go away and hide. We need to get the staff paid one way or the other.’
Tubs filled with dirty needles – and some with dangerous medicines used in cancer treatment -are stacked to the ceiling
North Tyneside MP Mary Glindon said: ‘The suspension of operations at the HES site is deeply concerning and my priorities are safety of the community and the future of the workers, who have lost their jobs.
‘It’s assuring that the Environment Agency is actively monitoring the site and the clinical waste has been stored safely and securely.
How did the human body part wast scandal unfold?
Here is a timeline of how the human body waste scandal unfolded:
The Environment Agency was first alerted to the fact that Healthcare Environment Services Ltd had a backlog of waste – including body parts – building up.
March – October:
Healthcare Environment Services Ltd was hit with a series of warnings and enforcement notices giving the firm deadlines by which the waste must be incinerated by.
The Environment Agency alerts Government ministers to the problem.
New Health Secretary Matt Hancock chairs an emergency COBRA meeting to discuss the scandal.
He sets aside £1million to help affected hospitals.
October 4 2018:
The Environment Agency announced that it has found the firm in breach of its permits at five of its six sites.
It also says it is launching a criminal investigation into the debacle.
October 12 2018:
Healthcare Environmental Services’ managing director, Gary Pettigrew, denied the claims there were tonnes of human limbs and tissues building up.
He said ‘just 1.1 per cent of this clinical waste is anatomical’, and that flesh was always prioritised for destruction.
‘My office, North Tyneside Council and the DWP are all working together to help the former workers, who find themselves in a state of limbo as HES has not folded as a company.
‘I have taken up the issue directly with the relevant minister to make sure the state fully discharges its duties to the workers and the community.
‘I am also speaking with senior management from HES about their ongoing dispute with the Department of Health and the loss of contracts the company suffered last year, which may have led to the closure of HES sites across the UK, including North Tyneside.’
HES could not be reached for comment.
The troubled firm now faces a criminal investigation after ‘repeatedly breaching permits’.
A spokesperson for the Environment Agency said: ‘Healthcare Environmental Services remains in breach of its environmental permits at six sites including at its clinical waste treatment and transfer station at Chollerton Drive, North Tyneside. Our enforcement action to clear the excess waste continues.
‘We have taken a range of action against the company but it has repeatedly breached permits and continued to operate unlawfully. As a result, in addition to our enforcement activity to clear the sites, we are undertaking a criminal investigation.
‘Our teams have taken action to attend the company’s sites to ensure they are locked and not accessible to the public. Our officers are carrying out regular inspections to monitor the security of each site.’#
It came after the Environment Agency issued an enforcement notice for the HES Newcastle site, ordering the firm to clear ‘excess waste’ at the facility.
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency has also launched an investigation to establish if criminal offences have been committed at HES sites in Dundee and Shott.
Last year, the Health Service Journal revealed that excess waste including human body parts reached 350 tonnes at the firm’s facility in Normanton, West Yorkshire, five times more than the company’s 70 tonne limit.
Ministers said the Environment Agency notified central Government in July about ‘an issue concerning clinical waste collection and disposal for hospitals and other public services’.
‘A DISASTER WAITING TO HAPPEN,’ SAYS WHISTLEBLOWER
A former employee this week laid bare the shocking practices by bosses inside the troubled firm at the centre of the NHS body parts scandal.
Healthcare Environmental Services (HES) allowed hundreds of tonnes of waste from hospitals, reportedly including body parts, to pile up at four of its sites in England.
A whistleblower has told MailOnline the firm’s cost-cutting tactics to take on more work and win extra disposal contracts was a ‘recipe for disaster’.
The anonymous man revealed he was shocked to discover HES did not own an incinerator at the site he worked at in Tyneside and had to ship its waste to other rival firms to burn it.
He worked at the firm for four months before quitting and said the firm – run by a husband and wife – ‘under-estimated’ the huge amount of waste it would have to deal with by taking on contracts with dozens of NHS trusts.
He told MailOnline: ‘It was quite clear from the outset that HES had won the contract on a very low profit margin.’
‘[HES] left little wiggle room for any issues they encountered or any large increase in waste levels.
‘They were already struggling with this waste stream around various other sites and once I found out they did not own an incinerator I knew they were in for a rough ride.’
He revealed the waste pile at HES’ site in Normanton, West Yorkshire, was there in 2015 and ‘has remained there ever since’.
The whistleblower added: ‘[HES] refused to buy latex gloves for staff, citing the cost. Yet they expected staff to handle raw untreated clinical waste.
‘They used to decant the bins daily into anything they could find, in order to get the bins back. But these waste types should not be mixed.
‘They refused to buy needle-resistant gloves and trousers for plant staff and drivers, and this placed staff at huge risk of needle injuries.’