Heaps upon heaps of garbage bags filled with soiled bandages, used needles, and more are piling up in the homes of the United Kingdom’s outpatients after the National Health Services (NHS) recently cancelled a collection service. Now, many are fearing that their homes could become an environmental hazard if the hazardous medical waste isn’t disposed of soon.
“We only realized it was not being collected after a week. When I asked about it they said the contract had been cancelled. The council originally told me to put it out with the black bags,” said Karen Coupe, whose garage is beginning to fill with bags of hazardous medical waste. “I have about 30 bags piled up in my garage — it’s ridiculous. We’ll end up with environmental health at our door.”
The situation is a harrying problem in and of itself, but it’s also making a tricky medical situation even worse.
“I have to connect [my daughter] to a machine which drains quite a lot of blood out,” said Coupe. “There are a number of life threatening issues doing that, [so] It’s quite stressful for me already without this. Putting bloodlines out could be a real risk.”
Hospitals and health care facilities are capable of generating about 5.9 million tons of garbage each year, about 20% of which is considered hazardous material that may be infectious, toxic, or radioactive. Such dangerous waste cannot simply be tossed out with the rest of the garbage, as it will pose a danger to sanitation workers, the general public, and the environment, so hospitals are required to incinerate, autoclave, or dispose of their medical waste in some other government-regulated way.
Hazardous medical waste generated at home must also be treated this way, which is why NHS arranged a contract with medical waste disposal service PHS Waste Mangagement. However, that contract ended, which local authorities were warned about, said a spokesperson for NHS Property Services.
“When the local Primary Care Trust was abolished in 2013, NHS Property Services inherited a small contract collecting clinical waste for approximately 20 patients in East Lancashire,” said NHSPS. “NHS England advised us that clinical waste was the responsibility of the local authority and all partners were made aware of this.”
However, the outpatients themselves were not warned, according to Coupe.
“We were given no warning of this before it happened at Christmas,” said Coupe. “The first I knew about it was when it was not picked up in January and I rang the Royal Preston Hospital care team who knew nothing about it and were angry and upset.”
Fortunately, the outcries have been heard, and NHS is working on a solution.
“We are concerned to hear that there has been a problem and will link with the successor authority to take forward,” said the spokesperson.