The Health Secretary, Alan Johnson, intervened yesterday to stop a hospital trust at the centre of a superbug scandal paying thousands of pounds in severance money to its former chief executive. Mr Johnson stepped in following reports that Rose Gibb was to receive a large payout after she quit on Friday as the head of Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust.
The trust has been condemned in a report for failures in hygiene that "definitely or probably" caused the deaths of 90 patients from hospital-acquired infections.
Geoff Martin, of the campaign group Health Emergency, said: "I have heard from Maidstone NHS staff this morning that chief exec Rose Gibb is rumoured to have received a massive pay-off from the trust. If it's true, we have a right to know how much taxpayers' money is involved. It would fuel the scandal even more if it turns out that senior managers have walked away from this carnage with their pockets stuffed with NHS cash."
Trust officials could face criminal prosecution over a litany of failures in hygiene which led to the patients' deaths. Police are reviewing whether mismanagement by chiefs at Kent and Sussex Hospital, Pembury Hospital and Maidstone Hospital amounted to a criminal act, Kent police said.
The infection is thought to have contributed to 345 deaths and affected more than 1,100 people across a two-year period.
The Health Secretary said: "I have instructed the trust to withhold any severance payment to the former chief executive of Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust, pending legal advice."
The trust, run by a new interim chief executive, Glenn Douglas, refused to disclose how much money his predecessor was due to receive after leaving. A spokesman insisted the "financial arrangements are confidential".
According to the trust's annual accounts, Ms Gibb was paid about £150,000 in salary in 2006-07, £5,000 in benefits and about £12,500 pension.
Mr Johnson denied that the imposition of government targets on the over-stretched hospital had contributed to the management failures that led to Clostridium difficile going unchecked in the trust's hospitals.
The shocking state of the hospitals, including claims that patients had been told by staff to defecate in their hospital beds, was revealed in a damning report by the Healthcare Commission, the NHS watchdog.Reuse content