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Saturday, October 13, 2007

NHS superbug board should have been sacked, say Tories - Guardian reports today

NHS superbug board should have been sacked, say Tories - Guardian


"Government ministers were last night accused of aggravating the NHS superbug scandal by failing to take charge of the hospitals where 90 people died as soon as the scale of mismanagement became clear.

Andrew Lansley, the Conservative shadow health secretary, last night said the three hospitals of the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS trust should have been brought under direct departmental control.

In a report on Thursday, the Healthcare Commission said scores of patients died from infection by Clostridium difficile bacteria in Britain's worst outbreak of a hospital superbug. It blamed the trust board for a catalogue of safety lapses that caused the death toll between April 2004 and September 2006.

Mr Lansley said the government should have acted to suspend or sack the trust's board as soon as it received an advance copy of the commission's findings in the middle of last week.

Instead, it allowed directors to agree a package worth more than £250,000 for Rose Gibb, the chief executive, who quit her job on Friday last week without any announcement or public explanation.

Mr Lansley said: "This devastating report should have precipitated the immediate removal of those responsible on grounds of gross negligence. Normally employees are entitled to written warnings, but in circumstances of gross misconduct most contracts allow for summary dismissal. I do not know why that did not happen in this case."

The commission accused the trust of "significant failings in infection control". When inspectors went into its hospitals after the C difficile outbreaks were contained, they found patients being provided with bedpans that were visibly dirty with faeces. Bedding and equipment was left on the floor, fire doors were blocked and needle and sharp instrument disposal bins were overflowing on four wards. Staff washed cups in treatment room sinks and stored food in the clinical refrigerators.

Mr Lansley said: "The Department of Health could and should have removed the entire board and any directors with a contribution to make could have been appointed to a new one. The power exists when ministers have no confidence in a board. It is difficult to imagine what might be a graver offence than the one they perpetrated." Sacking the board would have forestalled any payoffs, he added.

After media criticism of the payoff on Thursday, the health secretary, Alan Johnson, instructed the trust to withhold the severance payment, pending legal advice. The department said yesterday its lawyers were still considering the matter."