Staff at a troubled clinical waste firm at the centre of a criminal investigation have been told they have lost their jobs.
Workers at Healthcare Environmental Services (HES) were told that the North Lanarkshire company, which was probed by authorities south of the border after a build up of waste - including body parts - at some of its depots in England, would cease trading “with immediate effect”.
About 150 people are employed at HES’s head office in Shotts, and almost 400 more at depots throughout the UK.
The firm, which lost 17 NHS England contracts earlier this year, has responsibility to dispose of clinical waste from every hospital, GP’s surgery, dental practice and pharmacy in Scotland. Earlier this month, National Services Scotland (NSS) said it had taken responsibility for waste after HSE withdrew its services as a result of its financial problems.
In a letter to staff, managing director Garry Pettigrew blamed “unfair” Government pressure on the business, saying that it had been unable to “trade effectively”. It added that its banker, HSBC, had pulled the plug on its finances.
Politicians have called for UK Government action and an inquiry into the collapse of the firm. In November, HES said it was to sue the NHS organisations which terminated their contracts.
In the letter to workers, who were called to a meeting at the Shotts depot this morning after previously receiving text messages warning that they may not receive this month’s pay, Mr Pettigrew said: “I write to you to inform you that your position in the company will be made redundant with immediate effect.
“I apologise that there have been no previous consultations on this matter, however there are unforeseen circumstances that have proven to be outwith our control.”
He pointed to a reduction in incinerator capacity in England, which the company has argued has affected its ability to operate.
Staff were told that if they had more than two years service at the company, they would be entitled to a redundancy payment. However the letter added that the company did not have funds to pay it and directed workers to an online application with the UK Government’s
Redundancy Payments Service. Earlier this year, HES was found to be in breach of its permits at five sites in England which deal with clinical waste and a criminal investigation was launched by the Environment Agency.
The Health Service Journal (HSJ) reported that amputated limbs and pharmaceutical waste were among the matter which had not been properly disposed of.
It is believed the waste was stored securely, but was not being processed and disposed of within the correct regulatory timeframes.
At one site in Normanton, West Yorkshire, excess waste levels reached 350 tonnes in September, the HSJ reported. This is five times more than the company’s 70 tonne limit, and a small proportion of it is believed to have been human body parts.
Alex Neil, MSP for Airdrie and Shotts, said: “This will be an incredibly difficult time for the HES workers and their families and we are here to do what we can to help if we can.
“But I am clear that the UK Government has a responsibility to now start working in the interests of the staff, not against them, and to explain for their actions which appears to have driven this business to the wall. We want to have an urgent meeting with the responsible UK Ministers to discuss where we go from here.”
MP Neil Gray said: “I am devastated for the workers and their families who are losing their jobs today, particularly at this time of year. Alex and I are here to do all we can to help these workers at this difficult time. It seems clear that this situation could have been avoided, but actions at a UK Government level have made it unavoidable.
“It is time UK Ministers took some responsibility and also agreed to an independent inquiry into their handling of this whole affair.”
Business minister Jamie Hepburn said the Scottish Government had been in regular touch with HES and had offered to visit the company this morning to provide support to employees through Partnership Action for Continuing Employment (PACE) - the Scottish Government’s initiative for responding to redundancy situations - but did not receive a response. He said: “I am very concerned to learn that employees of Healthcare Environment Services have been told they are being made redundant and the impact this will have on them and their families.
“We have contacted the company previously on a number of occasions, most recently yesterday. After previously not engaging with this offer of support we hope that the company will now do so to assist their employees.”