Council asleep at the wheel over medical waste firm’s failure to collect from local hospitals and care homes

Garry Pettigrew and health centres, hospitals and care homes affect by the demise of the medical waste collection service.

By Bill Heaney

West Dunbartonshire Council appears to have been caught sleeping at the wheel on the waste disposal front for the second time in three months.

Despite national coverage in newspapers, TV and radio that the company which collects clinical waste from every medical-linked establishment in Scotland – this includes West Dunbartonshire – had ceased trading, no emergency measures were put in place by the Council here.

And this allowed BBC Scotland to illustrate their news story last night with footage of overflowing waste bins containing potentially hazardous items at Crosslet House residential home in Dumbarton.

Crosslet House is the responsibility of the new Health and Social Care Partnership, which operates hand in hand with the Council, and which initial surveys have shown has failed to achieve the aims it was set up for when it was launched.

Coming hard on the heels of the Greenlight debacle which saw the recycling centres at Dalmoak on the Renton road and Old Kilpatrick closed temporarily and more than 100 people made redundant, this is yet another crisis for the SNP administration.

Meanwhile, BBC Scotland is reporting that Garry Pettigrew, the boss of Healthcare Environmental Services, the clinical waste firm that ceased trading before Christmas, has insisted he is still fighting for his staff – despite none of them receiving redundancy payments.

Items they collect include body parts.

All 400 employees were given redundancy notices last week.  They have not been paid wages that are due to them – and cannot receive redundancy money because the company has not yet declared insolvency.

Managing director Pettigrew said he hoped the company could survive.

Speaking to the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme, he said there had been “four or five” potential buyers for the business over the past month and a half.

And he pledged to “never throw in the towel” and to continue fighting to save the company “to the very end until there’s no breath left in me”.

HES lost its contracts with NHS Scotland and 17 NHS trusts in England last year after it was found to be stockpiling clinical waste – with Mr Pettigrew blaming the UK government for the company going out of business.

Staff at the North Lanarkshire-based company did not receive their wages for last month on 28 December, with the company claiming it was unable to pay them what they are due. They were subsequently all given redundancy notices.

The workers have also been told they cannot claim statutory redundancy from the UK-wide Redundancy Payment Service without a reference number from an insolvency practitioner – which Mr Pettigrew has not yet appointed.

Mr Pettigrew claimed to have been “distraught” about this and said that “no-one has been paid, including the management team”.

But he strongly denied he had let his “brilliant” staff down, and said they had always been paid on time during the company’s 23 years in business.

Mr Pettigrew said: “The reality is the company is still trying to survive and also find a buyer. Obviously buyers have been kept away from us by the UK government because they keep telling the buyers to wait until we go under.

“My job is to make sure the business survives, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do this since all this media nonsense broke out.”

Although there are plenty of questions to be asked as to why the Council did not react when the news of this crisis broke, West Dunbartonshire Council continues to refuse to answer legitimate questions from The Democrat.

The UK government’s environment agency has previously told the BBC that HES had “significantly and repeatedly breached its environmental permits by storing excess waste at a number of its sites”.

And it has said it took enforcement action and launched a criminal investigation after the company “continued to operate unlawfully”.

Workers have previously raised concerns about a build-up of waste at the company’s main plant at Shotts, in North Lanarkshire. It also has 10 regional centres across the UK.

In Scotland, the NHS is now dealing with clinical waste under contingency plans until a new contract starts in April, while in England Mitie has taken over some health service contracts previously held by HES.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) is monitoring conditions at Shotts and at the firm’s other Scottish site in Dundee.

Sepa issued enforcement notices against HES on 12 September and 11 December, and last week said it was investigating whether criminal offences had been committed.

West Dunbartonshire Council will not tell The Democrat whether the waste currently building up at Crosslet House and other health and health-related establishments in this area presents a health hazard.

Premises HSE collected from here include Vale of Leven Hospital, the Golden Jubilee Hospital, health centres and dental surgeries.

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