Hewitt survives no confidence vote

The health secretary survived a Commons vote of no confidence last night after David Cameron branded her a “lame duck health secretary”.

A Conservative-led vote to dock Patricia Hewitt’s salary by £1,000 – a traditional sign of no-confidence in a minister – was defeated by 63 votes in a packed Commons vote.

After Tony Blair was criticised for failing to unequivocally endorse his health secretary in prime minister’s questions, her cabinet colleagues joined her on the front bench in a show of solidarity.

The Commons endorsement followed a difficult day for the health minister; she received a critical reception at Royal College of Midwives conference and was told by a judge that he “reluctantly” awarded her costs after junior doctors lost their legal challenge against her.

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley opened the Commons debate.

He claimed Ms Hewitt’s credibility has been destroyed, blaming her “serial incompetence” and failure to listen. He also said the introduction of primary care trusts had been “botched” by the government.

He said: “The staff in the NHS have reached the end of the line with the secretary of state.”

But Ms Hewitt responded she would not take advice from the Tories on managing the NHS, claiming they had “starved” the NHS of funds.

Patient satisfaction is the single most important test of services, she claimed, pointing to surveys which found most patients rate their care as good, very good or excellent.

Ms Hewitt was supported on the front bench by pensions secretary John Hutton, Labour chair Hazel Blears, communities secretary Ruth Kelly, trade and industry secretary Alistair Darling and international development secretary Hilary Benn.

Earlier, commentators claimed Mr Blair failed to fully support his health secretary after Mr Cameron said she had been “hung out to dry” during prime minister’s questions.

Downing Street later claimed Mr Blair “absolutely” had full confidence in Ms Hewitt. His official spokesman said Ms Hewitt had the difficult task of taking the hard decisions that would ensure the long-term success of the health service.

The Department of Health’s (DoH) latest plans to reorganise maternity services – which will involve the closure of some units – have been criticised by midwives and the Conservatives.

At the midwives’ conference in Brighton yesterday, Ms Hewitt defended the closures, insisting the reforms would provide better care overall.

The health secretary won an empty victory yesterday when a judge rejected junior doctors’ call for a judicial review into the online application system.

However, Mr Justice Goldring endorsed the doctors’ complaints and said the system was “deeply flawed”. He “reluctantly” handed the health secretary £45,000 costs.

Ms Hewitt has briefed MPs on her strategy to resolve the doctors’ job crisis. The DoH has already said it will revert to a CV-based system for the second round of applications and the health secretary this afternoon outlined further measures to make more training places available.