04/11/2015 06:38 EDT | Updated 06/14/2015 12:59 EDT

Alberta allowing disposal of dialysis equipment as general waste: NDP

EDMONTON - Alberta's NDP is accusing the province of pinching pennies by relaxing rules for the disposal of dialysis equipment.

The party released what it claims is a leaked Alberta Health Services presentation that outlines a decision to reclassify dialysis waste as general rather than biomedical waste.

The party says the policy change affects blood-filled tubes and containers, and says it was made without consideration of the effect on patient and employee safety.

Alberta Health Services spokeswoman Shelly Willsey says in an email that the disposal of dialysis equipment that no longer contains blood or needles into general waste is safe and complies with CSA standards.

Willsey says items containing blood continue to be disposed of as biomedical waste.

David Eggen, who is seeking re-election for the NDP in Edmonton-Calder, says the policy calls for disposal of dialysis equipment in "robust" garbage bags.

"Albertans want to have the highest standard of safety and security in our public health system and going for the lowest common denominator, this bargain basement version, is an indication of things to come if this PC government gets the majority they so seek," Eggen said in an interview Saturday.

The Alberta Health Services presentation that was supplied by the NDP states as long as there are "no sharps attached or dripping blood," dialysis waste should be disposed of as general waste.

The presentation says the change affects the province's northern zone, and will make the policy consistent with the one that's currently in use for the central region.

The Guidelines for the Management of Biomedical Waste in Canada, a document produced by the Canadian Council for Ministers of the Environment in 1992, notes that dialysis waste, including tubing, filters, towels and disposable sheets, is acceptable for disposal as general waste.

The document notes that while any item that has had contact with blood may be a hazard, "it is not usually considered practical or necessary to treat all such waste as biomedical waste."

Other items on the document's list as acceptable for general waste include soiled dressings, sponges, specimen containers, surgical drapes and catheters.

Photos that the NDP says were supplied by healthcare workers show tubes with pinkish liquid inside them.

"We know that there is blood that is in the systems, and it puts a further strain on the disposal of biomedical waste," Eggen said.

Alberta's auditor general, Merwan Saher, recommended in a report in 2012 that the province should pursue more opportunities to reduce the amount of materials that were entering the healthcare waste stream.

Saher suggested that some general waste was going into healthcare waste, and that it was pricey for taxpayers.

"Depending on volumes, such practices could result in significantly higher disposal costs because the cost of healthcare waste disposal is approximately 10 times the cost of general waste disposal," Saher wrote in his report.

Mike Storeshaw, a Progressive Conservative campaign spokesman, said other Canadian jurisdictions also follow guidelines that classify dialysis materials as general waste.

"I don't think it's helpful for the NDP to scaremonger about the safety of medical waste," Storeshaw wrote in an email. "This is in fact a good example of where money can be saved in the health system while preserving patient safety and care."