Clinical waste firm received £1m before failing to pay staff
Body parts disposal company had been handed sizeable sums from various NHS boards in the weeks leading up to mass redundancies
A SCANDAL-HIT clinical waste firm which did not pay its staff last month received nearly £1 million from NHS boards before running into financial problems.
Healthcare Environmental Services Ltd (HES) benefited from the public money in the weeks leading up to staff being made redundant days after Christmas.
Monica Lennon, Scottish Labour’s shadow health secretary, said: “Having met HES workers with Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard a few days ago, it’s clear the unanswered questions are stacking up, not least what happened to this money the company received from NHS boards.”
Shotts-based HES, which has various sites across the UK, including one in Dundee, has been at the centre of a huge row over its handling of the disposal of clinical waste from health service trusts and boards.
A multi-million-pound company, HES ran into difficulties in October after its contracts with more than a dozen NHS trusts south of the Border were cancelled when backlogs of unprocessed waste were found at its depots.
Initial reports claimed that hundreds of tonnes of waste, including body parts, had failed to be incinerated. It is understood the backlog at Shotts has still not been cleared. The NHS in Scotland, whose own contract with HES covered hospitals, GP surgeries and pharmacies, followed suit by saying its work with the firm would not be renewed in 2019.
The crisis at the firm, whose managing director is Garry Pettigrew, escalated and staff received a text from the MD’s son on Christmas Eve about December’s wages: “Guys, as it stands the bank are still unwilling to release the funds for Friday.
“We are putting all kinds of pressure on them to do so but they still haven’t budged yet.”
He added: “Try and enjoy your Christmas and switch off for a couple of days. Best wishes.”
Staff at the firm, which employs around 400 people, were then handed redundancy notices and some former employees have turned to food banks.
However, although staff worked at HES for no money last month, public records reveal the firm received significant payments from NHS clients weeks before the Christmas crisis.
NHS Lanarkshire paid HES over £252,000 in October for clinical waste disposal, including individual payments of £ 27,857, £ 29,784, £ 127,209 and £67,401.
According to NHS Lanarkshire, no money was handed over in November or December, and October’s sum included outstanding invoices.
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde paid HES £180,412 for “admin supplies” on October 30, and £199,195 in mid-November. No payment was made in December, according to NHSGGC.
HES also received £79,351 from NHS Lothian i n November, as well as £184,315 in the previous month. December’s payment has not been finalised. NHS Grampian also paid the firm £76,296 in October.
The sums, which come to nearly £1m, are almost certainly a fraction of the payments from October onwards, as they are based on the NHS boards that have up-to-date online records.
Lennon added: “Both Richard and I wrote to Health Secretary Jeane Freeman at the start of the Christmas break but she hasn’t responded, and both she and Derek Mackay have been silent while hundreds of families across the UK have faced a Christmas not knowing what their future holds.
“It’s completely unacceptable for the Scottish Health and Economy ministers to go missing like this, and we will demanding answers when Parliament returns.”
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) issued two enforcement notices to HES in early September on the need for more robust systems in relation to the tracking and management of waste.
Weeks later, the UK Environment Agency announced that HES was in breach of its permits at four of six clinical waste sites and the quango began a criminal investigation over the unauthorised backlog.
Struggling workers told a tabloid newspaper last week of how the firm’s difficulties had affected them personally.
Former HES driver Jim Sharp, 55, said: “It is devastating, isn’t it? I had a small idea the company were having trouble down south.
“I’ve got three kids and two grandkids who stay with me. I feel desperate today. The company should be responsible.
Mark Bulloch, who lives with his wife and daughter, also said: “My mortgage was due on Friday. My wages should go in on the 28th and everything comes out that day.
“I’ve got texts from my bank saying there’s not enough money to pay anything. I’m hoping my mortgage company will see the situation that I am in.
“It is absolutely grim.
“My family is devastated. It is the worst Christmas and New Year ever. We are scrimping and scraping. I honestly thought we would be paid right up until the last minute.”
Pettigrew has insisted from the beginning of the controversy that the backlog
My family is devastated. It is the worst Christmas and New Year ever. We are scrimping and scraping. I honestly thought we would be paid right up until the last minute