A waste management company has been forced to make alternative arrangements for 15% of collections in London and South East England in the last week after ‘record numbers’ of drivers called in sick with Covid.
Anenta, which oversees NHS waste contracts in the two regions and manages clinical waste services covering 300 Covid vaccination centres, is calling for the Government to vaccinate drivers urgently to prevent further collection backlogs and disruption to the national vaccination programme.
The company, which manages the collection of waste from thousands of practices and pharmacies, warned the delays to waste collection and delivery of sharps disposal containers could cause unsafe storage issues.
This could have an impact on the types of services a GP surgery can deliver, it added, and could slow the rate at which vaccinations can be administered at vaccination centres.
Graham Flynn, managing director of Anenta, said ‘we are close to a tipping point’ and warned that illness among those trained to collect clinical waste could reach ‘such high proportions’ that services to the wider NHS would be ‘seriously affected’.
He said: ‘We’re already seeing record numbers of drivers calling in sick. In the last week alone we’ve had to make alternative arrangements for 15% of all collections, both in relation to vaccination centres and the collection of healthcare waste from GPs, pharmacies and other healthcare settings.
‘That’s only sustainable for so long, which is why the issue needs to be addressed now, without delay.’
A standardised and consistent approach to support drivers and other clinical waste collection operatives is vital, Mr Flynn added.
‘Train volunteers on clinical waste disposal’
The company also claimed that ‘part of the cause of the spread of illness’ among its drivers is the result of ‘vaccination waste being put in the wrong waste collection streams’ at centres.
Mr Flynn said ‘the proper segregation of waste is just not happening,’ and that the company has ‘heard of numerous cases’ where sharps aren’t being disposed of properly.
He added: ‘We are also encountering clinical waste bags that have been incorrectly tied, allowing contaminated air to be expelled, potentially releasing Covid-laden air and other infections onto the individuals handling them.
‘This is why we have been calling for all clinical waste bags to be swan-neck tied with a zip tie, which prevents air from escaping.’
Mr Flynn said his concern is that volunteers at the vaccination centres ‘are not being properly trained’ and warned the issue needed to be addressed.
Last month, Management in Practice’s sister title Pulse reported that some GP practices were having to store clinical waste ‘in practice toilets’ due to issues with delayed clinical waste collections.
*Note – this article was amended at 11.00 on 11 February to reflect that 15% of collections were not cancelled, but instead alternative arrangements had to be made for the collections due to the staff absence.