Rose Gibb’s battle to get her compensation payoff went to the High Court yesterday – where she was met by a barrage of photographers and cameramen.
Ms Gibb - who is expected to give evidence today - is suing her former employer, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells trust, for breach of contract. She was chief executive.
Yesterday, she listened intently as the details of her case unfolded.
Ms Gibb’s counsel, Oliver Segal, claimed the trust had not acted with “irrational generosity” when it agreed the compromise agreement with Ms Gibb which would have given her£174,000 for loss of office. It had considered other options on how to deal with her.
Ms Gibb left the trust in October 2007, just days before a damning Healthcare Commission report into C difficile outbreaks at the trust. The report said there was a “litany of errors” in the handling of the outbreak and that the bug had possibly contributed to the deaths of up to 90 patients.
Referring to comments by former chairman James Lee – who is not expected to give evidence - in a report prepared for the strategic health authority, Mr Segal outlined the situation the trust was in and the difficulties which could have occurred had it tried to dismiss Ms Gibb rather than reaching an agreement.
"Trust was in complete disarray"
Mr Lee wrote that "the trust was in complete disarray....the finances of the trust were deteriorating daily". Returning order to the trust was "paramount" he said. Had Ms Gibb been dismissed, she would have "fought hard". But "the SHA was insistent that she must leave before publication".
She left after a compensation agreement had been signed under which Ms Gibb would be entitled to a substantial payment. It is the details of how that payment was agreed – and whether the trust exceeded its legal power in making the agreement - which are at the heart of the court case.
Decision by non-executive directors
Mr Segal said a draft version of the Healthcare Commission report had been received by the trust. He described how the non-executive directors who sat on the remuneration committee gradually decided that Ms Gibb had to leave her post as chief executive.
But as the publication date drew near they decided she needed to leave office swiftly. When the committee decided informally that the best course of action was to encourage or if necessary force her to go, this was communicated to the chair of the strategic health authority and legal advice was obtained.
Mr Segal said the trust did not act outside the bounds of reasonableness in agreeing the package.
As part of the deal, Ms Gibb had agreed to various conditions including a gagging clause which would have limited what she could say in response to criticism of her.
But when the report came out David Flory, director general of finance, performance and operations at the Department of Health, ordered the trust to halt payment.
In January 2008 the trust offered to pay Ms Gibb six months' pay in lieu of notice but nothing more. By this point it was too late for her to claim unfair dismissal at an employment tribunal.
Ms Gibb is believed not to have worked in the NHS since her departure from the trust. The case continues.
Catch the latest developments on hsj.co.uk as the case unfolds