Under-fire hospital trust chairman quits

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LONDON, Oct 15 (Reuters) The chairman of a Kent hospital trust at the centre of an infection scandal has resigned, Health Secretary Alan Johnson said today.

James Lee, chairman of Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Hospital NHS Trust, has stepped down, Johnson told parliament.

There were two outbreaks of the deadly so-called ''superbug'' Clostridium difficile, or C Diff, at the trust between April 2004 and September 2006, which affected 1,176 people, at least 345 of whom have died.

The Healthcare Commission last week said C.Diff was likely to be the main cause of death in around 90 of these cases and had definitely led to the deaths of 21 patients.

It criticised the trust for its failure to tackle the spread of the disease.

Victims and their families are expected to mount legal action and the trust is now braced for damage claims running into hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Johnson said the HCC report had exposed ''significant failings in the duty of care'' at the trust and apologised to those affected on behalf of the government.

Rose Gibb, the chief executive of the NHS trust, quit after four years in the post just days before the report came out.

Johnson has ordered that her severance pay be withheld pending legal advice.

The South East Coast Strategic Health Authority has since commissioned an independent review into the leadership of the trust during the period of the outbreaks. An interim report is expected next month.

C Diff bacteria live in the gut of up to 8 percent of healthy adults who carry the bug without it causing any problems.

It mainly causes infection among patients who have received antibiotics, particularly the elderly.

Symptoms include diarrhoea, severe bowel inflammation, fever, nausea and abdominal pain.

Last month Prime Minister Gordon Brown ordered a deep clean of every hospital in Britain to tackle hospital superbugs.

The NHS is currently being plagued by deadly infections such as C Diff and MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, which are resistant to treatment with most available antiobiotics and can be fatal.

Reuters RSA RN2354

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