HL Deb 05 June 1991 vol 529 cc648-50

2.59 p.m.

Baroness Nicol asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will ensure that waste incinerators in NHS hospitals meet the health and safety standards set by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution for other waste disposers.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the National Health Service uses incinerators primarily for the safe disposal of clinical waste. These incinerators are usually of a capacity that requires regulation by local authority inspectorates rather than by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution, both under the Control of Pollution Act 1974 and the Environmental Protection Act 1990. The 1990 Act establishes stringent new standards for the disposal of clinical waste and the National Health Service will have to meet these requirements as quickly as possible.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. However, is it not a fact that at the moment many incinerators cannot burn waste at the high temperatures that are required to produce a safe result as they have no gas cleaning system and in many cases the chimneys are too low? That must pose a threat not only to patients in the hospitals concerned but also to surrounding residents. Why then has the department given hospital authorities another five years to meet the required standards? Surely this matter requires more urgency than that.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, although compliance with the new standards has to be achieved in full within five years of 1st April 1991 under the terms of the 1990 Act, health authorities will have to meet a much shorter timescale unless there are exceptional circumstances. The expectation is that satisfactory arrangements for the safe disposal of clinical waste will have been made within 12 months.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, many people are now being treated in the community who have quite serious infections and who attend day surgery. Does the Minister consider that the facilities for disposing of clinical waste in the community are adequate?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, that is rather a different angle to the Question. I shall look into that aspect of the matter and write to the noble Baroness.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, at a meeting which I attended yesterday an official of the BMA made the point that the association was very worried about this matter It had some proof that the waste from hospitals is entering water supplies. That would indicate a serious situation and five years is far too long a period for that situation to persist.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord did not hear a previous reply of mine when I said that the main requirement would be achieved within a 12-month period although full implementation of the required standards has to be achieved within five years. However, we are concerned about this matter. Recently Crown immunity was abolished and the Environmental Protection Act 1990 introduced more stringent provisions. I believe those two measures will go a long way towards meeting the anxieties that are felt about this matter.

Bareness Phillips

My Lords, I hope I may offer some comfort to the Minister. The Charing Cross Hospital is situated near my home. Every morning I watch three of its chimneys baking away. I have asked one of my medical grandchildren what that meant. I shall not repeat to your Lordships what he said but at least one London hospital is efficient.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that comment.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, does the Minister accept the serious nature of the report produced by the National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors? The association's director of industrial affairs has stated: Never in the 21-year history of NAWDC has the association come across an area of waste management where the current practices are so appallingly below standard". Yesterday the Government made an announcement about its intentions as regards public health. Bearing that fact in mind, should not the Government give this matter a high priority?

Baroness Hooper

Yes, my Lords. As I said, we believe the provision in the 1990 Act places a legal responsibility on producers—in this case we are discussing individual health authorities and NHS trusts—to dispose of their waste properly and to ensure that the law is fully complied with right through from the generation of waste to its final disposal. We believe that that provision will go a long way towards meeting the anxieties that exist in this area. We are aware of those anxieties.

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