Clinical waste from Scottish health boards shipped to Shetland

Clinical waste from health boards across Scotland is now being imported to Shetland for burning in Lerwick's incinerator in an effort to help ease a national backlog.

Clinical health waste is being shipped to Shetland. Picture: VisitBritain

Low grade NHS waste such as dressings, plastic aprons and used latex gloves from Scottish health boards has been taken into Shetland Islands Council’s (SIC) waste to energy plant since mid-December.

The incinerator burns waste to provide hot water for Lerwick’s district heating scheme. Clinical waste firm Healthcare Environmental Services folded recently with hundreds of workers made redundant after the North Lanarkshire based company lost NHS contracts when it had run up a backlog of waste. It had been tasked with disposing clinical waste from NHS health boards across Scotland.

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SIC officers were aware of the impending national waste problem and successfully applied for a permit variation from environment regulator SEPA to take in ‘orange bag’ clinical waste and increase quantities. It already accepts clinical waste from the health board in Shetland, as well as Orkney.

In December councillors approved new income charges for the energy recovery plant, including a fee for processing ‘difficult waste’ such as NHS clinical waste, which amounts to nearly £144 per tonne.

Chairman of the SIC’s environment and transport committee Ryan Thomson said taking in the extra waste from other health boards has already generated around £35,000 in revenue for the council.

He added: “The SIC and NHS Scotland and SEPA have been in discussions and have reached an agreement to dispose of low-risk clinical waste from the NHS sites right across the country as part of a national contingency plan.”

A spokesperson for the council said: “The quantity disposed of to date amounts to less than 10 per cent (by weight) of the total waste incinerated, and is ‘orange bag’ waste, consisting of soiled dressings, swabs and disposables.”

Scottish Tory health spokesman Miles Briggs, said: “It is clear a solution to alleviating some of the back log of clinical waste was needed and that led to the use of capacity in Shetland.

“What additional transport costs this will include will clearly be substantial.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We regard the safety of all NHS employees as paramount.”