Cumbrian NHS chief Sue Page had a duty to dismiss a former employee illegally, a tribunal heard.

Ms Page, the chief executive of Cumbria Primary Care Trust, argued her decision saved the taxpayer more than £500,000. She made former Primary Care Trust (PCT) boss Nigel Woodcock redundant by letter in May 2007, without meeting him first to explain.

The law states that employers must consult with their staff before making them redundant. But Ms Page claims Mr Woodcock had tried to avoid a meeting until after his 49th birthday, when he would qualify for an enhanced pension payout.

She said: “I made a fine-line decision. Do I protect the rights of the employee, or do I protect the rights of the taxpayer and the NHS in Cumbria?

“I can’t let a delay of a few weeks allow someone to receive enhanced benefits of more than half a million pounds. That would be over and above his £250,000 redundancy payout.”

Barrister Andrew Short, acting for the PCT, conceded that the claimant was a victim of unfair dismissal. His representative, barrister Deshpal Panesar, said: “Money is a part of his claim, but also it’s the fact of his unfair treatment.”

A former chief executive of three primary care trusts, Mr Woodcock is demanding £760,000 in compensation from Cumbria PCT. He claims bosses squeezed him out for political reasons and discriminated against him because of his age. The move came after anger at his plans to close nine cottage hospitals in north Cumbria.

Until early 2006, Mr Woodcock was the head of trusts in Eden Valley, Carlisle and West Cumbria. When they were joined together to form a single Cumbrian trust, he was told his role would be redundant.

He claims he was “sabotaged” by a bad reference. But NHS officials said he interviewed badly.

The tribunal continues.

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