Rose Gibb told the High Court today that if NHS chief executives resigned every time a patient died “there would be an awful lot of empty seats in the NHS”.

In the witness box this morning, Ms Gibb defended her record running Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells trust. She said the trust had never been complacent about patient safety.

Ms Gibb, who is seeking£75,427 in lieu of notice,£174,573 as compensation for loss of office and up to£55 a day in interest, gave a spirited defence of her handling of infection control at the trust and of her leadership style.

Empty seats
She told the court she would have resigned if she had presided over action that had resulted in deliberate harm to or death of a patient.

“Patients die regularly because of actions or inactions that could have been different,” she said.

She added that “there would be an awful lot of empty seats [among] the chief executives of the NHS” if they stood down every time their action or inaction led to a patient’s death.

In exchanges with the trust’s barrister, she said that the trust board had disputed elements of the Healthcare Commission report into two outbreaks of C difficile, including the figures for the number of deaths potentially caused.

“I believe that some patients had died as a result of contracting C diff. We did not know how many and what period of time. That is no different to the rest of the NHS,” she said.

The trust board had had correspondence with the regulator the Healthcare Commission about the report – some parts were changed between draft and publication – and at one point considered how it could be challenged.

It still did not accept all of the report as publication loomed in October 2007.

But while Ms Gibb was still expecting to hold onto her job and planning how the board could implement a recommendation in the report on reviewing its leadership, the remuneration committee was considering how she could be removed before the report came out, and had obtained legal advice and advice from the trust’s HR director.

She told the court she thought the commission did not take a very balanced view of some of the evidence and apply it in a fair and reasonable way.

Ms Gibb said she had ensured that some antibiotics were physically taken off the shelves at the trust so they could not be prescribed inappropriately. And she described the view of her put forward in the Healthcare Commission report as a “caricature”.

Ms Gibb eventually stood down after the remuneration committee agreed to pay her a year’s pay and pay in lieu of notice. The defence’s case is that such a payment was beyond the norm.

But Ms Gibb said that payments of as much as two years’ pay were not unusual when chief executives left the NHS. She knew of several cases where payments were above the legal amount an organisation might be forced to pay. She cited cases in Brighton and Pennine Acute trust to back this up.

Ms Gibb eventually stood down after the remuneration committee agreed to pay her a year's pay and pay in lieu of notice. But she did not receive the payment, which was halted by David Flory, director general of finance, performance and operations at the Department of Health. The defence's case is that such a payment was beyond the norm.

The case continues. Keep checking for regular updates.

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