Leading article: Patricia Hewitt must stay

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In the case of Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Health, the opposite conclusion should be reached. The idea that she should stand down because some delegates were rude to her at the Royal College of Nursing conference last week cannot be sustained. The problems of the National Health Service are not, fundamentally, caused by the Government's reforms. Rather, they are being exposed by it. The only criticism of the reform programme that should matter is that it has taken so long to get to the point where NHS trusts are forced to exercise financial discipline.

That was not, however, the point that the nurses were making in Bournemouth. As Ms Hewitt said yesterday: "What they are asking for is no redundancies, ever, of any NHS staff member, particularly a nurse. They are saying: 'No new hospital if it's going to be built using the Private Finance Initiative.' They are saying: 'No independent-sector treatment centres. Bail out the over-spenders.'" Contrary to the view of Diane Jones, opposite, Ms Hewitt is right to refuse to consider such a disastrous course of action for the NHS.

It may be that she appeared to be floundering at the podium in Bournemouth, but she did the brave thing in cutting short her speech and taking questions from the floor instead. And there is more than a hint of sexism in the criticism of her nannying manner. No one would seriously suggest, surely, that a minister should consider his or her position because they lack the full set of showbusiness qualities.

In the big picture, the NHS needs to change, and that will mean short-term pain for some of its staff. The worst mistake now would be to bend before every protest. Far from resigning, Ms Hewitt should be congratulated for her resolution.

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