THE SCOTTISH Government has been accused of “mismanagement” after it was revealed that almost £40 million has been spent on clearing clinical waste from hospitals since a contract fiasco 18 months ago.

Costs to remove the waste have increased since December last year when Healthcare Environmental Services Ltd ceased trading – with NHS National Services Scotland blaming the rise in costs partly on Covid-19 and “market disruption”.

More than £9 million was required to continue the service for the rest of the last financial year under a contingency plan, taking the total of public money spent for 2018/19 to more than £14 million.

The total cost for removing clinical waste in 2019/20 was £23.5 million, while NHS National Services Scotland forecast that £6.2 million was spent during the first quarter of this financial year – more than was forked out in 2015/16 in total.

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Healthcare Environmental Services was responsible for the disposing of clinical waste in NHS bodies across the UK, but the company ran into difficulties in December 2018.

Contracts with NHS trusts in England were cancelled after backlogs of unprocessed waste were found at its depots. Hundreds of tonnes of materials, including body parts, had not been incinerated, and the NHS in Scotland also distanced itself from the firm.

In February 2019, NHS bosses warned that almost 30 tonnes of “high risk” clinical waste may have gone missing.

Conservatives have called for the issues and costs to be “properly investigated”.

Scottish Conservative health spokesperson, Miles Briggs, said: “The mismanagement of hospital waste disposal by SNP ministers is another example of their incompetence running NHS Scotland.

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“SNP Ministers have been warned about the impact on costs and hospital waste since Healthcare Environmental Services stopped providing services to NHS Scotland.

“Last year there were repeated problems with the disposal of high-risk clinical waste, failure to clear backlogs at hospitals and issues with clinical waste disposal contracts.”

He added: “The disposal of clinical waste has cost Scottish taxpayers millions in addition costs over the last two years to desperately try to clean up this SNP Government mess.

“For the first quarter of this year the disposal of clinical waste is already costing more than for the full financial year a few years ago.

“We need to see SNP ministers held to account for why we are in this mess and I believe it is time for the hospital waste scandal in Scotland to be properly investigated.”

NHS officials have stressed that moving from the contingency plan has taken longer than expected – but the full transition should be finished by the end of the summer.

A spokesperson for NHS National Services Scotland, said: “With the previous supplier’s cessation of services in December 2018, there was significant disruption to UK clinical waste market.

“In Scotland, contingency solutions were used to ensure clinical waste was collected and treated in line with all applicable regulations, while having no impact on patient services.

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“In summary, contingency arrangements in Scotland have included new clinical waste collections from hospital and community sites and new treatment facilities to process the waste. This has resulted in higher costs, due to the investment required which would, typically be recovered over the course of a long-term contract.

“The process of moving from contingency in Scotland to the new clinical waste provider has taken longer than anticipated due to a delay in contract award following the market disruption, subsequent planning delays and then Covid-19. However, health boards are now transitioning fully from contingency and this will be complete by the end of the summer.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “NHS National Services Scotland continues to work closely with local NHS health boards to ensure clinical waste services are maintained and patient services are not impacted.

“Transition of health board clinical waste services from the agreed contingency measures to the new clinical waste provider is underway and is expected to complete by the end of the summer. SEPA is continuing to monitor the operation of these arrangements and to date their inspections have not identified any risk to human health or the environment.”