Kent bug scandal NHS boss awarded damages
- 24 June 2010
- From the section Kent
The former boss of a Kent NHS trust where 90 people died in a superbug outbreak has been awarded more than £190,000 in damages.
Rose Gibb went to the Court of Appeal in a legal battle over her severance pay.
She left her job days before a report into a clostridium difficile (C. diff) outbreak at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust was released.
Families involved in the outbreak called the payout an "outrage".
The trust negotiated a £250,000 pay-off, but £175,000 was withheld.
Ms Gibb left her £150,000-a-year chief executive post in October 2007, days before a highly critical report highlighted problems with overcrowded and dirty wards.
The report concluded the infection was the main cause of death for 90 patients in 2007.
'Demonised by press'
Because she left by mutual agreement, Ms Gibb was in line for a £250,000 severance package, which included £174,573 compensation and £75,427 notice pay.
The Department of Health blocked the payment, although she eventually received the notice money.
A High Court judge ruled she was not entitled to £250,000, but gave her leave to appeal.
A two-day breach of contract case was heard at the Court of Appeal in March.
Ms Gibb said she was "demonised" by the press and used as a scapegoat in the Healthcare Commission's report.
She said she only resigned because she was relying on the trust honouring its £250,000 pay-off agreement, of which she has only received about £75,000 for leave notice.
In the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Sedley said High Court judge Mr Justice Treacy had let himself be drawn into acting more as an auditor than a judge.
He also criticised the government's intervention.
"The effect of unwarranted departmental interference has thus been to trap the trust between a rock and a hard place and to expose it, in its attempt to escape, to heavy legal costs," he said.
He said central government might have done better to recognise the trust was "making the best of a bad job" - a bad job which was the decision to sacrifice a senior official who had done nothing wrong.
Ending his ruling, he said: "Perhaps those responsible will now reflect that, since such blame as the report allocated was subsequently accepted by the trust's board - all of whom resigned following publication of the report - there had been no good reason to dismiss the CEO."
Lord Justice Sedley continued: "All this money, both compensation and costs, could have been spent on improving hygiene and patient care in the trust's hospitals."
Former Bucks Fizz singer Cheryl Baker, whose mother-in-law Doreen Ford died at Maidstone Hospital in 2008 after contracting C. diff, said the compensation award was an "outrage".
She said the former Kent NHS boss should hand the money to families who had lost loved ones.
Ms Baker also said she would be happy to join other families in contesting the decision.
She said: "I'm disgusted at the legal system that she should be allowed that money. She should be put in prison for what she did because she was indirectly responsible for those deaths.
"It was because of her that the cleaning wasn't done properly. I think it's absolutely disgusting.
"If she had any common sense, she would hand that money over to those who lost loved ones."
Ms Baker added: "It's like rubbing our noses in it."
The union which backed Ms Gibb, Managers in Partnership (MiP), said there had been "no winners" and neither the union or Ms Gibb were celebrating.
MiP chief executive Jon Restell said: "This case should never have come to court. It only did so because the NHS handled things so incompetently."
He said the court had found ministers and officials in the last government were "more concerned with spin".
He added Ms Gibb never shunned her responsibilities and left the trust against her wishes - when she would have remained in post to answer public concerns personally.
The NHS had acted in a way that failed to address concerns of the public and distressed relatives, he said.
Mr Restell called on the new government to ensure similar cases are avoided in the future.