MACHIAVELLI RETURNS FOR THE SUMMER WITH HIS BLUFFER'S GUIDE TO MANAGING THE NHS

It is all very well to spout political philosophy about managing health services, but how does that help when facing a real problem in the strife-torn, scorched and blackened hulk of the NHS? Tactics are what It is all about. Forget strategy and logistics.Winning is everything.

Suppose you want to divest yourself of, say, a telephone operator, but he is also chair of the local union branch?

It is not straightforward. One false move and the catering staff, porters, cleaners and half the estates division will be on strike, the chief executive will be quivering and the chair will become slightly alarmed. If the press get hold of it - and they will, unions are good at that - you are finished.

The book says you should carry out the appropriate disciplinary proceedings by the letter, stage by stage, without fear or favour, until you reach a clean resolution. Utter tosh.

Unions are adept at disciplinary hearings and industrial tribunals - indeed, it is probably all they are good at or for.

If you wheel in the miscreant and administer a mild verbal rebuke (following the necessary investigations and presentation of cases), you have tipped your hand.

The local permanent official will be brought in snarling to sort you out. Barriers will be erected, false statements procured and worse, aspersions will be cast on your status as a manager, husband, wife, mother or anything else.

Mud sticks, so do not go there. The only way to get rid of this person is by stealth, cunning and malevolent intent.

The first principle is absolute secrecy.

Concoct your case, trawl through every record you can find, run a police check. This last is often worthwhile: for long-established staff, convictions after appointment may well be unknown to you.

Of course, if there is a criminal record your task is easier. But if not, set a trap. Put some pens in the department marked with that powder which is invisible to all but ultra violet.

Wait until they've gone, then report it to the police. It might get him and it might not.

Make sure the call-logging system can record the target's calls. If he phones his wife to say he'll be late home It is probably not enough in itself, but it all adds to the body of evidence.

Check time-keeping records to establish a pattern of lateness or absenteeism, especially around weekends and bank holidays.Check if he sought time off for union duties on each occasion. Call in a firm of private investigators to spy on him during sick leave.

If you think I am joking, you are sadly ill informed.

Look for tittle-tattle: the nurses will be best