Lack of investment in the UK’s capacity for high-temperature incineration has created a ghoulish stockpile of human body parts awaiting proper disposal.
The company with the contract (of course, it had to be an issue with outsourcing to private contractors) to dispose of National Health Service waste including amputated limbs, infectious liquids and cytotoxic waste connected with cancer treatments is Healthcare Environmental Services Ltd.
And it is pleading innocence. For once, the contractor is not to blame, it seems.
The evidence is that the UK’s ability to incinerate this dangerous waste has diminished because the UK’s aging high-temperature incinerators have been allowed to fall into disrepair, meaning they break down for prolonged periods – and “zero waste to landfill” policies mean the little time that is available has been earmarked for other purposes.
This is clearly a failure by the Conservative government.
It seems the government was notified that too much waste has been building up, back at the end of July this year. But Healthcare Environmental says it has been warning environmental regulators – government environmental regulators – for the past year, and had been highlighting the reduction in incinerator capacity for several more years prior to that.
So the government has known about the problem for years.
And what has it done?
It told the company to make the waste organs safe by putting them in refrigerators. Brilliant.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth isn’t satisfied at all. He said: “These are staggering revelations and given the number of NHS Trusts involved, along with wider environmental health implications, I’m disappointed the Health Secretary didn’t inform Parliament last month.
“We need a statement in the Commons next week from ministers detailing when the Government was first informed of this stockpiling, what support is now available to Trusts and what contingency plans are in place for the future.”
Personally, I wonder if this is an issue that has fallen through the “austerity” gap.
When David Cameron started slashing government investment in public services, he assumed that gaps in provision would be filled by the private sector, with profit-motivated companies rushing in to make a buck or two. Alternatively, he suggested that not-for-profit organisations would take over in some areas, in an intiative he called “The Big Society”.
The problem was that “The Big Society” disappeared without a trace and private enterprise didn’t touch anything that didn’t show an opportunity for quick profit. This was a time of recession, remember – there wasn’t the cash available for heavy investment.
It seems to me that Cameron had painted himself into a corner. He had managed to slither into office on the basis of his claim that he could make everything better by getting everybody to tighten their belts, but had actually meant the poor and working people would pay, while people of his own class would profit (they have tripled their incomes while the rest of us struggled on real-terms cuts in wages and/or benefits).
In short, he couldn’t get Big Money to pay for modernisation, and he wouldn’t pay for it with the public purse.
So he ignored it.
Now he is long gone, and Theresa May is in charge of a Tory government that is falling apart – not least because the consequences of Cameron’s cuts are coming home.
This is just one of them.
Theresa May announced that austerity was over in her conference speech (yes, I know it was a lie).
As the bills arrive for modernisation of the services Cameron neglected, I wonder how long it’ll be before she announces that it is reinstated?
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