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August 4, 2008

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No criminal charges over superbug deaths

Despite a “catalogue of failures in management and leadership and practices” discovered at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust, the HSE and the Police have announced that no charges will be brought over outbreaks of Clostridium Difficile, which left 90 people dead between 2004 and 2006.

The announcement came at the conclusion of the regulator and Kent Police’s review of the Healthcare Commission’s October 2007 report into the outbreak, which found that although “mistakes have been made, there is insufficient information to launch a criminal investigation”.

Said the HSE’s deputy chief executive, Sandra Caldwell: “The HSE shares the Police’s conclusion that, from the information available, we cannot establish with certainty a causal link between failings to manage infection and the death of any particular person.”

She added: “The Trust has acknowledged that mistakes were made and their senior management team has changed substantially.” The Trust’s chief executive, Rose Gibb, resigned over the incident and was reportedly to be ‘paid off’ with half her annual salary but this move was blocked by the Health Secretary Alan Johnson, pending further legal advice.

Pressure group Health Emergency was outraged at the decision not to bring charges, saying it sent out a signal that those at the top can get away with catastrophic failures without paying the penalty. Said spokesperson Geoff Martin: “It doesn’t get any worse than 90 deaths, and it’s a massive kick in the teeth to the friends and relatives of those who died that no one will be properly called to account.”

Nigel Ellis, head of investigations at the Healthcare Commission, acknowledged the difficulty of the process for the friends and relatives of those who died during the outbreaks and was keen to emphasise that its focus is now on “ensuring that this is never allowed to happen again”. He said: “The entire NHS must learn the lessons from the events at Maidstone and Kent hospitals. There are signs that recent focus on infection control within the NHS is starting to turn the tides, with rates of C. Difficile finally showing some signs of decline. This must be sustained, and infection rates brought down further across the country.”

The Commission has conducted follow-up investigations at the Trust and will make its final judgement on progress in a report to be published later this year. Sandra Caldwell said an audit of the Trust will also be carried out in September.

The Healthcare Commission’s report can be found at the link below.

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