A waste management company has stored remains of NHS patients in unrefrigerated units for more than six months, according to reports.
Environment Agency (EA) inspections of facilities run by Healthcare Environmental Services (HES) – seen by the Health Service Journal (HSJ) – reveal a backlog of unprocessed waste from dozens of hospitals.
The outlet reports this scenario has built up over years at its sites, and resulted in a smell of “decaying flesh” at one.
Buckets with blood leaking from them, anatomical waste being stored outside in the sun, as well as problems with sewers, were found at its Yorkshire-based facility.
HES ceased trading after being caught up in a row over stockpiling medical waste with the NHS last year, laying off hundreds of workers in December.
The regulator found the North Lanarkshire-based company breached permits by having more waste on site than their permit allows and storing waste inappropriately.
An EA spokeswoman said: “HES has significantly and repeatedly breached its environmental permits by storing excess waste inappropriately at a number of its sites.
“We have taken a range of action against the company but they have continued to operate unlawfully.
“As a result, in addition to our enforcement activity to clear the sites, we are undertaking a criminal investigation.”
HES has previously denied claims that human body parts were among waste stockpiled at its sites.
The HSJ reports that an EA inspection paper from July 2018 of the firm’s Normanton site in Yorkshire, shows its refrigeration unit – used for anatomical waste storage – was broken.
The regulator’s officer, Alan Johnston, is said to have been met by a “strong powerful odour of decaying flesh mixed with a highly intense chemical odour of disinfectant”.
It adds that he could not stay in the entrance to the unit for “more than a few seconds”.
The report comes as MSPs in Holyrood heard up to 300 tonnes of clinical waste and 10 tonnes of anatomical waste has piled up at the firm’s Scottish sites.
Scotland’s Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham told the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday the best available evidence suggests a backlog of between 250 and 300 tonnes of clinical waste and 10 tonnes of anatomical waste at Scottish HES sites in Dundee and Shotts, North Lanarkshire.
She said the anatomical waste is mainly at the firm’s site in Shotts and will need a specialist team for packing and loading which may take several days.
Ms Cunningham told MSPs: “A current estimate of the total clearance and disposal costs is around £250,000, but I’m conscious these are estimates, these are not fixed figures.”
She disclosed the information in response to questions from Labour’s Monica Lennon, saying there is also an additional contingency cost.
HES was thought to have employed 150 people in Shotts and 350 elsewhere across the UK, and it previously had contracts with the NHS in England and Scotland.
Staff formerly employed by HES have said 350 people have not been paid since November 28, and many have had to turn to food banks after being made redundant in December.
HES chief Garry Pettigrew previously claimed he is “still fighting” for the workers.