To: Don Wise, chief executive

From: Paul Servant, assistant chief executive

Re: Don't pay out, look up

Dear Don

It used to be that when the time had come for a senior manager to depart their organisation somewhat earlier than anyone envisaged, some simple procedures were followed.

First, someone would turn up from the SHA and have a quiet chat about new opportunities, academic pursuits and horticulture. Someone would check with the lawyer what the contractual obligations were and the manager would be down the garden centre with that year's deficit in their back pocket. Everyone happy, reputations officially unblemished, gossips in business, life moves on.

It's all much more sophisticated today. It still starts off with a visit from the SHA, this time from someone on secondment looking like he's living off several previous redundancy payments - it's not only the cream that floats to the top. A short, sharp expletive-ridden exchange follows and Chummy takes an unexpected holiday.

The SHA then rings the trust chair to tell him he needs a new chief executive. The chair rings the HR director to start winding up Chummy's terms and conditions. The HR director calls the lawyer, who checks the contract and gives a legal opinion on what is owed. He agrees this with Chummy's lawyers and the compromise agreement is prepared for the HR director to present to the chair.

The chair then tells the HR director to refer it to his counterpart at the SHA. The HR director of the SHA checks with his chief executive, who says that it needs to be referred to the Department of Health and Treasury, because he is not senior enough to make such a momentous decision.

The Treasury solicitors and DH special advisers pore over the agreement, decide that the Daily Mail would find a 75 per cent cut in contractual obligation acceptable and order the SHA to order the trust to slice payment by three quarters. Result equals minister happy, advisers happy, Daily Mail happy, SHA postal system working, lawyers salivating and employment tribunal sharpening its knives.