Union chiefs last night voiced fears for the health and safety of NHS Highland porters over the handling of clinical waste – and are threatening to call for strike action after claims workers suffered needle wounds.
It has also been claimed that porters have been given gardening gloves in order to handle masses of clinical waste, with the GMB union alleging the waste heaps include remnants of equipment used to treat the highly contagious Norovirus.
The claims come as staff threaten to down tools at Raigmore Hospital today amid revelations that up to four porters sustained injuries in recent weeks.
GMB Scotland regional officer Liz Gordon said: “We now have had several members who have been injured in the management of NHS waste since the provider lost its contract.
“Reports of 12-feet high waste heaps, fluid spillage and unpleasant smells are coming in.
“I have asked for risk assessment but none have been provided.”
She added: “There has been absolutely no consultation so the GMB will be lodging a grievance on the NHS Highlands failure to protect its staff and I will be conducting a consultative ballot to gauge the feeling amongst the membership.
“Patients are at risk because the porters are out walking through waste effluent, then they walk back into the hospital with the same shoes and clothing on to get on with their other daily tasks … which includes contact with patients.”
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North Lanarkshire-based Healthcare Environmental Services (HES) had held the responsibility for disposing of clinical waste from hospitals, with NHS Highland among a number of health boards to terminate links with HES amid rising concerns over the capability of the firm to conduct disposal works.
An NHS Highland spokeswoman said: “NHS Highland, like the union, regards the safety of our employees as paramount. That is why the whole process has been risk assessed and safe systems of work have been identified.
“Where appropriate protective equipment has been issued and made available to our porters. NHS Highland believes that those processes when followed should ensure that nobody is at risk.
“As part of our normal procedures the health board is investigating these incidents to find out how these events have occurred and we will take any necessary action to prevent any further incidents from happening.
“We are due to meet with the union next week to address their concerns.”