Pay-Off To Superbug Hospital Chief Is Blocked

Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, has stepped in to block a £250,000 pay-off to the hospital boss at the centre of Britain’s worst superbug outbreak.

Rose Gibb left her job as chief executive of the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust, in Kent, days before a damning report revealed at least 90 patients in its care had been directly killed by clostridium difficile. The report also heaped criticism on her management style.

Appalling care and a litany of failures by the trust were blamed by the Healthcare Commission for the spread of the bug through overcrowded and dirty wards.

Police are currently reviewing the report to see if any criminal offences, such as corporate manslaughter, were committed, and the Health and Safety Executive is also considering action.

Yet Miss Gibb was allowed to leave her £150,000 post by “mutual agreement” last Friday, meaning she was eligible for £250,000 in severance pay until Mr Johnson ordered the trust to block the payment.

However, it was unclear last night whether Mr Johnson, who described the trust’s failings as “a scandal”, had any legal power to prevent the payment, and it is thought Miss Gibb will also be allowed to keep her £507,000 pension pot.

It has also emerged that Miss Gibb — a mother of one whose partner, Mark Rees, was chief executive of another NHS trust until he, too, quit earlier this month — tried to cover up the extent of the C.diff outbreak.

Doctors at the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust told The Daily Telegraph that Miss Gibb had deliberately withheld information about the extent of the outbreak, even from fellow board members.

Junior doctors were also allegedly ordered not to put clostridium difficile on death certificates.

The Telegraph has also learnt that Miss Gibb was blamed for allegedly failing to sort out dirty wards at two other hospitals and was involved in a secret pact to try to ensure her previous hospital was not blamed for failings in the 2000 case of Victoria Climbie, who died after appalling abuse at her home.

Miss Gibb was one of six signatories to a letter from health chiefs to Haringey council in which they allegedly agreed not to criticise each other over failures to spot the signs of abuse before the eight-year-old died, though Miss Gibb was not working at the hospital at the time of Victoria’s death.

Health campaigners and relatives of those who died from C.diff at the Kent trust’s hospitals were furious when told about the proposed pay-out to Miss Gibb.

Geoff Martin, of the pressure group Health Emergency, said: “We have to end this situation where failed NHS chief executives are on a jobs merry-go-round, swinging from one highly paid post to the next, carrying a large pay-off with them despite failing to deliver the quality of care patients expect.”

Stephen O’Brien, the shadow health minister, said: “The NHS trust and the Government have a lot to answer about how the severance deal was negotiated in the first place.

“Suspending the pay-out is the least that should happen at this stage. It certainly doesn’t absolve the Government of its broken promises to reduce bed occupancy rates and waiting list times. Bad management has constrained nursing staff from giving the care that is needed.”

Mr Rees said Miss Gibb was aware of the move by Mr Johnson to withhold her severance payment.

Speaking from the couple’s home near Cobham, Kent, he said: “She doesn’t want to make any comment at all.”

Britain has one of the worst records in Europe for tackling hospital infections, with one in 10 of all hospital patients contracting a bug during their stay.

The NHS budget for dealing with the bugs has more than tripled under the Labour Government, but deaths are continuing to rise.

The European Union, which is proposing to introduce Europe-wide hospital hygiene requirements next year, said yesterday that Britain should learn from countries such as Slovenia, which has reversed the spread of superbugs with a “classical” approach to nursing and hygiene.

On Wednesday, the report from the Healthcare Commission into the C.diff outbreak in Kent found a catalogue of failings. The hospitals had filthy wards and vulnerable elderly patients were told to soil their beds because nurses were too busy to help them.

Targets and financial problems within the health service led to staff shortages and overcrowded wards which contributed to the spread of the infection, the report found.

Between April 2004 and September 2006, 1,176 patients contracted C.diff at the three hospitals and 345 died. Some patients with curable conditions died after contracting the bug.

The commission found the bug definitely or probably caused the deaths of 90 of them and was likely to have contribu ted to the deaths of another 255. In only 14 cases was it felt the bug had not been a factor in the death.

Yet in 2005, after the first outbreak, Miss Gibb was awarded a £20,000 pay rise.

The trust claims that infection control is now its top priority, but as late as March this year 40 patients contracted norovirus, also known as winter vomiting bug, and seven wards were closed.

An air ambulance service in Kent has suspended all flights into Maidstone Hospital over fears the infection is still not under control.