A backlog of medical waste is now being incinerated at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital — but critics are crying foul over “underhand” tactics in its disposal.
The Royal Gazette reported last month that the waste, which included human body parts and bloodied hospital gowns, had been left in shipping containers in Dockyard after KEMH’s specialised incinerator broke down. According to the hospital, eight containers were rented for storage — and could even be reused by their owners.
A source told this newspaper that the waste had been left “baking” in the containers at Sallyport, despite international best practices saying it should not be kept at room temperature beyond 24 hours. “They are trying to do it as covertly as possible, bringing down all that rotten stuff,” the source said, charging that the hospital had sent all its refrigerated containers to the West End and emptied soiled material from the “hot boxes” into them, then used a trucking company to bring the cold containers back to KEMH.
Demanding to know what was being done with the containers used to house the waste, the source added: “They should have each container tented, but guys are just opening them up.”
The hospital’s bio-oxidiser incinerator broke down in May. According to a Bermuda Hospitals Board (BHB) spokeswoman, the specialised machine — which destroys everything from contaminated needles to human tissue — has been operating for “some weeks now”.
Shadow Health Minister Michael Dunkley told The Royal Gazette: “Over the weekend I received calls from concerned people stating that there was a trucking company transferring refrigerated containers to Sallyport to pick up the waste from the dry containers and then transfer it back to the hospital site. It’s my understanding the waste has been up at Sallyport site for a few weeks now.
“Originally it sounded like it would be a matter of days for the bio oxidiser to be back in service. Here we are some time later with a number of days of high heat, and we find out they were not stored in refrigerated containers all that time. Why would they be stored in dry containers all that time and then all of a sudden they take the refrigerated containers up there and switch them? That’s mischievous.”
And One Bermuda Alliance candidate for Sandys North Ray Charlton, also contacted, said he had checked Sallyport from the Dockyard ramparts overlooking the facility, and seen only ordinary containers stored at the site. “People have a right to know,” he said. “If it’s not being stored properly, and we’re talking about operating room waste, then just next door is the very popular Snorkel Park.”
Mr Charlton also accused Health Minister Zane DeSilva of claiming on talk radio that the waste was “being held in accordance with international standards”.
Mr DeSilva, off the Island, was unable to respond.
Added Mr Charlton: “I don’t want to be alarmist. I just don’t believe that the Minister has been straight up with this. I’m just concerned that things are being done on the ‘QT’ — it would be much better if they just came out and said what was going on.”
In response, the BHB spokeswoman said the bio-oxidiser has been back online since the end of May, but had to be temporarily shut down last week for maintenance. BHB is in “advanced stages” of seeking replacements so that the Island will not have “a single point of failure” for disposing of the waste.
She added: “We are in the process of signing a lease agreement to have our medical waste processed overseas should we face the same problem again, although this is requiring much greater scrutiny of what is processed and requiring BHB staff, patients and their families to stop using the medical waste bags on wards and in rooms for everyday trash and unused medications. These cannot be included if medical waste is sent overseas — medications especially are highly restricted. We will be happy to update the community on our progress for an on-island solution once all due diligence is complete.”
No health and safety incidents have been reported, she said. “Since the bio-oxidiser became operational again, we have been gradually processing the backlog of medical waste. Eight containers were rented. The BHB has relocated six containers at Sally Port back on site. The last of the containers are on trailers and are being relocated to the BHB.”
The use of shipping containers was the BHB’s best solution for storing the waste while its incinerator was out of commission, she said. “There were simply not the number of refrigerated containers available to rent at short notice.”
Asked if the dry containers could be reused or would be put out of commission, the spokeswoman said: “Eight containers were rented. Containers which hold bagged medical waste of this kind can be cleaned effectively and reused, but we cannot comment what process was used or if/how they are being reused, as they are not our containers.”
Useful website: www.bermudahospitals.bm.