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Appeal judges deny £190,000 damages "irrationally generous" for superbug boss

28 June 2010

The Court of Appeal has awarded an ousted NHS boss more than £190,000 after overturning a “bizarre legal situation” left in the wake of a superbug scandal.

Thomspons Solicitors has succeeded on behalf of Rose Gibb, former chief executive of Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust, who was one of the heads to roll following the outbreak of the clostridium difficile (c-dif) superbug which claimed 90 lives.

Awarding Ms Gibb full severance pay, Lord Justice Sedley has handed down a scathing judgement in which he accuses the government of making her a “public sacrifice”.

Sedley LJ also criticises the first instance judge, Treacy J, for allowing himself to be “drawn into acting more nearly as auditor than as judge”.

Laws LJ, Rimer LJ and Sedley LJ held that the government had no right to withhold the full severance pay offered to Ms Gibb in exchange for her instant resignation on the grounds that it was “irrationally generous”, as Treacy J had ruled.

Accusing the government of disregarding Ms Gibb’s legal rights to curry favour with the general public, Sedley LJ quotes Candide before stating: “It seems that the making of a public sacrifice to deflect press and political obloquy, which is what happened to the appellant, remains an accepted expedient of public administration in this country.”

Thomspons, instructing Antony White QC, successfully argued that the NHS trust had unlawfully kept Ms Gibbs severance pay back on request of the government.

Jane McNeill QC, instructed by Brachers on behalf of the NHS, claimed the trust did not have the power to pay Ms Gibb her dues because of central government intervention.

In Gibb v Maidstone and Thunbridge Wells NHS Trust [2010] EWCA Civ 678, Sedley LJ held: “The trust was directed by the Department of Health to renege on its own agreement,” later adding: “Perhaps those responsible will now reflect that... there had been no good reason to dismiss [Ms Gibb] and that all this money, both compensation and costs, could have been spent on improving hygiene and patient care in the trust’s hospitals.”

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