GP practices in East Sussex have warned their CCG they will have to stop doing face-to-face appointments unless mounting amounts of clinical waste are urgently collected.
The company responsible for disposing of clinical waste for practices in the area has run out of space to store the waste, Pulse has learned.
Dr Russell Brown, a GP at affected Manor Park Medical Centre, told Pulse that his practice is ‘overflowing in clinical waste bags’ after their weekly waste collections paused a month ago.
His practice, as well as two other local practices, have now warned the CCG they will soon be able to do telephone consultations only, due to a risk to health and safety.
In a letter seen by Pulse, his practice was informed of waste management contractor SRCL’s ‘poor performance’ over the past ‘4-6 weeks’, which is affecting both GP practices and pharmacies.
The letter from Anenta, the waste management company that manages NHS Enlgand’s waste collection contracts throughout large parts of southern England, said ‘collections continue to be missed with little to no communication from SRCL’.
Dr Brown’s practice has closed its patient toilet in order to store the excess waste but he told Pulse this solution would be short lived.
The practice has only three sharps bins left and if they run out, they will have nowhere to dispose of needles – which are being used at a faster rate than usual due to the expanded flu vaccination programme.
In a letter to NHS East Sussex CCG, sent this morning, Manor Park Medical Centre said: ‘The reason we are writing to you today, is to put you on standby that unless we are able to have our waste collected and some sharp bins delivered, we will have to close our doors to all patient face to face appointments.
‘We cannot safely open our doors to patients and expect staff to work in conditions where clinical waste is not being stored properly and the PPE used cannot be disposed of according to [health and safety] rules and used needles are unable to be disposed of safely. We will be able to continue telephone interactions but nothing else.’
Dr Brown told Pulse: ‘We are at the point, and two [other] practices have already told [East Sussex] CCG, that they are getting to the point that we may have to close doors. We’ll still be able to do phone consultations but we won’t be able to see anybody because we won’t be able to do any procedures.
‘We won’t have anywhere to throw away our PPE, never mind any dressings or needles or anything like that, which means we can’t see patients because of clinical waste collection.
‘Overall, it’s going to have a significant impact on our ability to monitor chronic diseases, to decide on how we refer people, some referrals to various services need us to do some investigations before we can do referrals.
‘If we can’t do the investigations because we can’t get the patients in because we can’t get rid of clinical waste, we can’t do the referrals which is potentially compromising patient care and safety.’
Anenta’s letter, sent 27 October after a meeting was held on 22 October to try and address the issue, said SRCL’s ‘situation with regard to disposal capacity’ is ‘now having an impact on the wider industry and customer base’, with third-party companies having to be drafted in at the expense of primary care commissioners.
It added: ‘No formal plan has been provided to Anenta or NHS England and Improvements to demonstrate careful consideration of how to resolve the current and ongoing situation.’
It outlined that ‘in September and October 139 sites had reported 245 missed collections – nearly half of all the missed collections reported in 2020’, while ‘24 sites had three to five collections missed’.
‘SRCL are aware of the issue and agree that the situation they find themselves in is not acceptable. Transport departments did prioritise the collection of clinical waste from Acute Trusts over that of primary care.’
Anenta said it is ‘implementing contingency collections for those locations deemed to be in an emergency situation’.
A company spokesperson told Pulse: ‘As the healthcare waste management agent working on behalf of the local CCG – with whom SRCL has its waste collection contract – Anenta has been working to mitigate the operational issues experienced by SRCL, which have led to delays in collection of healthcare waste.
‘In addition to identifying how SRCL aims to address the capacity issues at their disposal facilities, Anenta has been putting contingency measures in place – working with other healthcare waste processors to collect waste that SRCL has been unable to handle.
‘We continue to work with GPs and producers of clinical waste affected by SRCL’s capacity issues, to provide a service that will enable them to operate. We also continue to provide regular updates to GPs, and encourage practices with whom we work, to alert Anenta to any missed collections, in order that these can be addressed as a priority.’
An NHS England spokesperson told Pulse ‘no appointments have been cancelled and none will be cancelled’ due to the clinical waste issue.
Pulse has also approached SRCL and NHS East Sussex CCG for comment.