Former NHS boss wins legal battle

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The former boss of a Kent NHS Trust at the centre of Britain's worst infection outbreak has won her battle over severance payment at the Court of Appeal.

Former Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust chief executive Rose Gibb won £190,000 damages. She went to court after the Government withheld the payment she was offered in exchange for her resignation after a Clostridium difficile (C diff) outbreak which claimed the lives of 90 people.

Ms Gibb was given permission to take her case to the Court of Appeal after the High Court rejected her claim to enforce the terms of the package in April 2009. Her appeal was heard by three judges who ruled the Trust must pay her £190,284 damages in addition to the costs of the court hearings.

Lord Justice Sedley said: "It seems that the making of a public sacrifice to deflect press and public obloquy, which is what happened to the appellant, remains an accepted expedient of public administration."

The judge, together with Lords Justices Laws and Rimer, had been told by Anthony White QC, representing her, that the case raised important issues relating to the impact of the doctrine of ultra-vires – whether a body acts beyond its powers – on compromise agreements terminating public sector employment.

Ms Gibb left her £150,000-a-year post in October 2007, days before a highly critical report was published on the spread of C diff on overcrowded and dirty wards.

Because she left by mutual agreement, she was in line for a £250,000 severance package consisting of £174,573 compensation and £75,427 notice pay.

The payment was blocked after the Department of Health's intervention, although she eventually received the notice money.

The appeal revolved around whether the High Court got it wrong in finding that the Trust was acting beyond its powers in agreeing to the severance deal, and that the Trust was not "unjustly enriched" by avoiding paying her compensation for unfair dismissal as the failure to pursue such a claim lay at her door.

The damages award was for the amount of the severance package plus interest of £15,000.

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